By Anand Philar
Indian cricket is on the threshold of a new era with the Indian Premier League set to start on Friday in Bangalore. However, the “birth pangs” have been rather hurtful with the likes of Lalit Modi whose brainchild is the IPL, caught up in a Media storm over draconian regulations.
Honestly, I am surprised that educated men can be so blind to reality as Modi has been with shocking restrictions on Media coverage of the IPL. The fact is that the IPL needs Media as much as the Media needs cricket to drive its business. There is no getting away from this, but then, the IPL in its anxiety to squeeze every last drop out of its property has gone overboard in a bid to protect the hen that is laying the golden eggs.
Even the FIFA could not chain the Media that won a battle over the coverage rights of the 2006 World Cup. Neither has the International Olympic Committee seeks to bind the Media with complex regulations that in the end is self-defeating.
Under the circumstances, Modi and his cohorts have blundered headlong in their undisguised greed for money. There is not even a pretense of modesty about the IPL that has already generated mind-boggling revenues even before the first ball is bowled.
If the Media, by and large, is exercised over these coverage
restrictions, then it is quite understandable. Having said that,
cricket in India has grown into a business behemoth thanks in the main
to the Media that, in the first place, created undeserving hype on the
grounds of popularity that at best is presumptuous in the absence of a
credible public survey.
In the event, the situation is such that both IPL and the Media have got caught up in a mess that is of their own creation. For sure if the Media (electronic, print and internet) unites and decides to boycott the tournament, the Modi and his henchmen will have plenty to answer to their sponsors as also the franchises.
With hardly 24 hours to go before the Bangalore Royal Challengers take on Kolkatta Knight Riders at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, there is still no clarity on the Media-IPL tussle, but it is more than likely that things would be sorted out as we head into Friday’s opener.
The controversies apart, there is considerable anxiety and apprehension as cricket steps into an uncharted territory. We do have the Packer example before us when the late Aussie business tycoon defied the traditionalists and the ICC to launch the World Series cricket that brought about a revolution within the sport, turning it into a viable business proposition. However, considering the size of funding in IPL and its mix-and-match teams, nobody quite knows whether it would be a success or a failure.
Since all the eight teams are owned by people or organizations with business interests, one has to expect cricket to take the backseat. At the moment, millions of rupees are being spent to “dress up” the occasion by way of promotions, advertisements, websites with cricketers turned into warriors and what not. The hype is at its peak and Lalit Modi has done his bit to add “colour” to the tournament that is essentially a domestic event with a foreign flavour.
So much so that the recent Test series against South Africa is already history. I doubt if any attention is paid to ICC’s letter to the BCCI seeking explanation over the “sub-standard” pitch at Kanpur on which the Indians spun out the Proteas for a series squaring victory. But then, what about the pitch in Ahmedabad that suited the South African quicks who shot down India for a mere 76 in 20 overs?
It is an endless debate with no satisfactory conclusion as to whether the hosts have a right to prepare pitches to suit the home team. In fact, arguments for and against are pointless, for you cannot expect the West Indies or the Australians to prepare pitches that would take to spin on the first morning nor India offering a green top surface. It is best that we stop cribbing and complaining about pitches and get on with the game, for nothing will change.
Reverting to the IPL, it is difficult to even do a SWOT analysis of the eight teams that basically are just a collection of individuals. The bonding among the players is still to happen and I doubt if it will ever. There is no question of teams wearing a “settled” look given the fact that the foreign imports will be jetting in and out with one foot in the IPL and the other in their own touring National squads.
The respective coaches have thus a Herculean task of moulding the players of different nationalities into a cohesive unit. Although the foreign players have been at pains to emphasise their commitment and intensity, the pride of playing for a club as against one’s country can never be equated.
As for me, the IPL is all about three hours of entertainment that is akin to our commercial films - watch it, enjoy it and forget it! After all, there is no Oscar award at stake.