Give IPL a separate window to safeguard the sport

Last Updated: Fri, Jun 03, 2011 10:48 hrs

With the IPL done and dusted with, the issues over Gautam Gambhir and players' fitness swept under the carpet and a depleted Indian team in the sunny Caribbean islands, life it would seem is back to normal, but the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA) has come up with a survey that tells you where the sport is heading -- more on this later.  

For now, the attention will be focused on the West Indies tour, though I am certain it will not enjoy a close following given the time difference, the amount of cricket in the past six months and of course, the absence of the "superstars". Also, there is only so much that a mind can absorb.

For me, the highlight of the summer will be the tour of England that follows the West Indies series as by then, the Indian team is likely to be at full-strength.

For one thing, Sachin will be back for what could be his swansong tour to the Ole Blighty and he has apparently set his heart on scoring a century at Lord's where the first Test is to be played from July 21 to 25. By then, Sachin would have had his six-week break from cricket and hopefully, be fit and fresh in body and mind. You can expect another massive media coverage at that time, like the one we had during the World Cup.

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Of course, all that is in the future, but in the meantime, the after-effects of the IPL-4 are felt elsewhere. I came across a recent survey by the FICA that I feel deserves some attention, especially by the sport's administrators.

The report claimed that nearly one-third of the 45 international cricketers it contacted favoured retirement from National duties and focus on the IPL that offers hitherto unheard of riches to the players, or at least far more money than what they earn through Tests and ODIs playing for their respective nations.

The likes of Chris Gayle and Lasith Malinga make for an interesting case study. Both the worthies opted to play in IPL rather than assist their respective national sides engaged in international series. Malinga, in fact, announced his retirement from Tests when he was confronted with conflicting reports over his fitness after he indicated his non-availability for the ongoing Test series in England, citing an injury. Yet, the fast bowler completed his IPL commitments with the Mumbai Indians.

Gayle, of course, has been having running battles with the West Indies Board and the issue has grown so complex that I doubt both parties have a clue what exactly the problem was in the first place. Whatever it be, Gayle has in the past spoken of his reluctance to play in Test matches.

The FICA report quoted the federation's CEO Tim May who said: "The Indian Premier League continues to be popular with the players, and its superior pay structures for the players, continue to challenge players' priority over International Cricket."

It again raises the Club vs Country debate that I feel is an endless exercise given the different perspectives. May has suggested a separate window for the IPL to ensure that the top players are available for international series and thus safeguard the sanctity of representative cricket. I totally agree with May because the IPL, for all its ills, real and perceived, is here to stay and unless the BCCI gets too greedy, the tournament can only grow.

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May goes on to say: "Fica is a strong advocate of the International Schedule co-existing with the Indian Premier League, rather than competing with it. When players are able to earn over ten times their annual salary from their Boards, for just seven weeks cricket in the IPL, it would be foolhardy of Boards to continue to schedule International matches during IPL and expect players to remain loyal to the Board and International cricket."

You may or may not agree with this argument, but the unfortunate truth is that in the times that we live in, tradition is being redefined as we seem to rush headlong from one day to the next, one year to the next in the blink of any eye. IPL, in a way, is a representative of the modern sporting world that puts a premium on entertainment which precisely is what our desi version of T20 is with its deep pockets.

In many ways, cricket is at cross-roads. IPL, following its four successful seasons, is threatening the primacy of international cricket and it will continue to do so unless the authorities accept the popularity of the competition, and accord it a window in the cricketing calendar.

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