The curious case of the IPL Icons

Last Updated: Wed, Mar 10, 2010 05:06 hrs

Icon: (noun), an important and enduring symbol; one who is the object of great attention and devotion; an idol

The Indian Premier League (IPL) introduced the concept of the Icon Player in 2008. The Icon would get 15 per cent more than the highest paid player of the franchisee and also ended up becoming captain.

There were four outright icons: Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh. One was added later: Virendra Sehwag. One stepped down from the post: VVS Laxman.



There were only two franchisees which had absolutely nothing to do with icons: Rajasthan Royals (Shane Warne) and Chennai Superkings (MS Dhoni). Interestingly, these two non-“iconic” teams made it to the finals. None of the six icons did.

Coincidence?

If that could have been dismissed as a one-off thing, then something even more interesting happened in IPL2. Two icon players stepped down from captaincy, to be replaced by two non-icons: Adam Gilchrist (Deccan Chargers) and Anil Kumble (Bangalore Royal Challengers). Another surprise: These became the two finalists of the second season! 

More columns by Sunil Rajguru: Is Sachin really the greatest batsman of all time? | Harbhajan Singh, the media & a million idiots | Australia vs the rest: Curse of the Challenger


Now even as the IPL is readying to do away with the whole concept of icons in Season 3, two more franchisees have done away with their iconic captains. Sehwag makes way for Gautam Gambhir in Delhi Daredevils and Yuvraj makes way for K Sangakkara in Kings XI Punjab.

If both these teams somehow make it to the finals in IPL3, then it would be some coincidence. On the other hand, even if both Sachin and Sourav fail to make it to the finals for the third time in a row, it would prove that the whole idea of the icon was a disastrous move.

Franchisees want control: But why did the IPL Icon fail in such a way? While the IPL authorities said that this was a move to ensure that the top players would be assured of representing cities, franchisees said that it was a handicap during the player auction.  

But I don’t think that’s the only issue at hand.

IPL chief Lalit Modi himself said that the IPL was based on the model of the European football clubs. In fact it was first devised for Indian football, which showed absolutely no interest. (Sad, because if you had a football league featuring say the Bengal Lions, Goa Strikers, Kerala Bombers, some Northeast teams etc, it would surely be a hit, and a money-spinner too)  

But when you look at the football clubs, then certain truths come to light. For one, the club owner is like God: He can do what he wants and buy anyone for any amount of money.

Second, the coach is a dictator. He decides who plays and who doesn’t and what strategy to use. Each club is the master of its destiny, for better or worse.

The IPL, on the other hand, has used all sorts of restrictions on its franchisees. First there was the cap on money which you could spend in the auction. Secondly, instead of being given a clean slate and being free to follow whatever strategy they wanted, they were given a captain and they had to work out their entire strategy around him.

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There were ego clashes right from the very beginning, especially in the ones led by the most high-profile personalities—Vijay Mallya (RCB) and Shah Rukh Khan (KKR). While RCB washed a lot of dirty linen in public in the first season, they sorted out their act together in the second season and reached the finals.

KKR was more problematic. Ganguly is one of India's greatest ever captains and heading KKR should have been a cakewalk for him. John Buchanan coached world champions Australia through their most victorious period. Had there been a much better synergy between SRK, Dada and Buchanan, then KKR would have been a title contender. Let’s hope they get their act together in this season.  

BCCI wants control: But the issue also brought about an older problem. The CC in BCCI stands for Control of Cricket. The BCCI and the IPL management wants total control over everything and that is why there have been a number of controversies.

The IPL has taken on most of the international boards over issues like availability of players, NOCs, sponsor conflicts, etc. Even the Pakistanis player controversy was not handed with tact by the IPL, resulting in none of the players from that country being picked up in Season 3. The IPL has been involved in a clash with Cricket Club of India over usage of stadiums too.

Season 3 is around the corner and this time there isn’t that much buzz. That’s not because of IPL fatigue, but due to another factor. The IPL has set strict media restrictions, resulting in some media houses being shut out and others deciding to boycott it. Franchisees are praying for a last minute compromise.

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Right now the IPL is the championship of its kind. But in the future, as T20 becomes more popular, other countries may adopt similar tournaments. The ECB was planning something on those lines, but was pegged back thanks to the Allen Stanford controversy.  

The IPL has the first mover advantage. But, if some international board does manage to get its act together and launch a T20 League, then all the other boards, already upset by the high-handedness of the IPL, might flock there. There are currently hundreds of premier professional football clubs in the world. Imagine when cricket goes the same way.  

Other countries like England and Australia also don’t have the same security issues that the Indian subcontinent usually has and have better infrastructure. That’s something private franchisees may be more interested in.  

The IPL had better watch out if it wants a really long-term future.

More columns by Sunil Rajguru: Is Sachin really the greatest batsman of all time? | Harbhajan Singh, the media & a million idiots | Australia vs the rest: Curse of the Challenger