IPL – A beginning of an end

IPL League

IPL League

For the past many years, BCCI (Board for Control of Cricket in India) has used strong arm tactics to dictate its terms and vision to the rest of the cricket playing nations. There have been lots of complaints from organizers, respective cricket boards and even the die-hard fans. But ICC (International Cricket Council) has done nothing to control the growing, at times, abusive power of the BCCI.

BCCI’s latest venture, IPL (Indian Premier League) is just another attempt by which the world of cricket is kept hostage to the Indian Board’s whims. The idea of a premier league was originally borrowed from ICL (Indian Cricket League) which the BCCI banned for no apparent reason. ICL, led by former Indian Captain and legend Kapil Dev, has been clamoring for recognition from BCCI as well as ICC, but to no avail. ICC keeps referring them back to BCCI which in turn keeps refusing them audience.

IPL Cheer Leaders

IPL Cheer Leaders

It is no co-incidence that IPL has copied many elements from the hugely successful ICL, including foreign players mixed in with Indian greats. There is also a requirement to play a few juniors in each team. There are even cheer leaders with each team  to get fans into a frenzy, not unlike the cheerleaders in America’s NBA or NFL. These and other innovations to the game have been blatantly copied by IPL from ICL. The reward for ICL so far has been, that it has not been recognized at any level. And all  stars who play in the league get an automatic suspension from representing at the international level for their respective home countries. Hence, cricket greats like, Abdul Razzaq (Pak), Brian Lara (West Indies), Shane Bond (New Zealand), Damien Martin (Australia) have been outrightly banned from national duties.

Quite recently, their under arm tactics have lost them many fans even in Pakistan. Their recent one-sided decision to drop all Pakistanis from their league is another blatant attempt to show their hegemony over the sport. Players like Sohail Tanveer (highest wicket taker in the inaugural tournament), Shoaib Akhtar (the media show man and a crowd puller), Shahid Afridi (The fans favorite) are left in the cold while the next edition of the tournament gets underway this weekend in South Africa. In fact, even the Pakistani umpires (who actually represent ICC and not their respective countries) have been dropped without any logical reason.

The players from Pakistan are beginning to get together to sue the league for damages as the league owes them close to 4 million dollars and according to the contract they cannot take one sided decision.

And oh, the world media is also boycotting this year’s IPL in South Africa as the terms and conditions enforced by the BCCI are considered unsuitable for open and impartial journalism. Therefore, this year’s event will not be covered by the media as a whole.

This ugly situation by BCCI is enough to get any fan to turn away. Already, there is a huge disappointment in Pakistan (one of the world’s most cricket crazy nation) and chances are the TV viewership will plummet drastically as a whole in South Asia.

There are some growing concerns among the fans of cricket as well. We wonder who actually manages cricket? Is it BCCI or ICC? Why is ICC letting BCCI dictate its terms? Just because BCCI can throw a few dollars here and there, should we actually forget our morals and ethics to appease them? Would such tactics bring in more fans or will just turn them away?

I for one see it as the beginning of an end. Such tactics and many others will only result in fans turning away to other sports. BCCI should heed to the cliché, what goes around, comes around. The dangerous game that they are playing will one day come to bite them and bite hard it will!

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Bring on ICL franchise to Pakistan

Indian Cricket League

Indian Cricket League

The cricket community generally belonging to the Australian and the European continent are reluctant to travel to Pakistan due to their absurd security concerns (as discussed earlier in my blog). Thus, depriving the fans here in Pakistan of much sought after cricket extravaganza. In fact, 2008 will go down in history as one of the “dead” years when no Test Cricket is played in Pakistan. Barring a few one day matches, the year has been a barren for Pakistan Cricket and a game-less season for the fans.

Meanwhile, just across the border, in India, a rebel cricket league is keeping the fans here in Pakistan glued to the Television screens. Indian Cricket League, or ICL is currently playing 20/20 style of cricket with some of the best talent from across the world  led by some of the greats of International cricket including Inzimam ul Haq, Abdul Razak, Saqlain Mushtaq (Pakistan), Damien Martin, Jason Gillespie (Australia), Brian Lara (West Indies), Marvin Attaputu (Sri Lanka), Murray Goodwin (Zimbabwe), Andrew Hall (South Africa) among many others. In fact, there is now a team from Pakistan called Lahore Badshahs and one from Bangladesh as well.

Now here is an idea. Let’s invite the teams from ICL to come and play competitive cricket here in Pakistan. In fact, let’s extend the tournament to include venues in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi among other cities and give us fans the chance to see some of the biggest cricket stars slug it out in the middle. Just because ICC sanctioned teams do not want to play cricket in Pakistan does not mean the ICL teams will not travel here. I bet, all of them will be here the moment they get a chance.

So let’s not wait and make this request immediately to Kapil Dev, the foremost Indian cricketer of yester-years and now CEO of ICL. So Mr. Kapil Dev, if you ever get to read this blog, then make it a point to discuss this option with the players and teams and expand your franchise right here inside Pakistan. We will welcome you with open arms. Heck, I am even ready to help organize it. Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) may raise a few objections to such an event, but then again, when did ICL ever needed to ask anyone for permission to organize matches. Besides, PCB has failed to organize any serious cricket this year in Pakistan so their objections have no meat.

The second question is whether the sponsors will join in the bandwagon to make it a financial success? Of course! Already, Lahore Badshahs have Telenor (Pakistan’s second largest mobile operator) splattered all across their jerseys. And almost all major brands are advertising heavily on television (and any other medium possible) during the tournament as they all know and understand quite clearly, that Pakistani cricket fans love cricket and ICL is providing them with the a great opportunity to watch some competitive matches.

Cricket a great spectator sport with a following of over a billion worldwide. Every living person has a right to organize, play and watch this great game as they please regardless of any board, any country or any person.

Can Anyone Monopolize Cricket?

ICC might be the governing body, but do they really control everything that is cricket? Do Country Boards like PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board), BCCI (Board for Control of Cricket in India), ACB (Australian Cricket Board) and others have monopoly over cricket in their respective countries? Or do they “perceive” they have such powers? It is quite disheartening to note that ICL has been construed as a rebel league and that most of the players who play in that league have been banned by their respective boards (barring probably England) from all forms of cricket, first class inclusive.

Now, say Roger Federer, the great tennis star, plays in a match that is not sanctioned by ITF, would he be banned from playing in Wimbledon tournaments? Does ITF have monopoly over it? Or if Tiger Woods decides to play for a little known golf tournament or league in China not sanctioned by the official body, would he be banned from all Golf tournaments? Does anyone monopolize Golf?

ICL or Indian Cricket League is a revolutionary concept to take hold in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. For the first time, in the history of the South Asian cricket, there is a league that offers competitive salaries for playing matches of first class cricket quality. It also is probably the first time when large crowds are actually going to the stadiums to watch competitive cricket other than international matches. Yes, local leagues and first class matches have never really garnered any spectators in South Asia. However, since it is not sanctioned by BCCI in India or ICC (International Cricket Council) internationally, most of the cricket boards decided to ban their players (first class inclusive) from participating. Despite such punitive measures, giants of Cricket including Inzimam ul Haq, Abdul Razzaq, Brian Lara opted to quit International cricket and play in the league. Now even some lesser known players from around the world have joined the league including Taufiq Umar, Imran Farhat from Pakistan and Andrew Hall (South Africa) and Franklin Rose (West Indies) and many others.

The Pakistan first class cricket structure is so badly designed that there are just a few quality matches in a year and the salaries for professional cricketers is nothing short of pittance. Hence, when ICL came along, many potentially good cricketers decided to sign up to make those extra dollars and thus forgoing a chance to represent Pakistan at national level. Take the example of fine cricketers like Taufiq Umar, Imran Farhat who have played test cricket for Pakistan in the past, but don’t seem to find a regular place within the Test team these days. The salary of a professional cricket who does not play for Pakistan is probably not much higher than a clerk’s monthly income. Therefore, these talented youth opted to make some extra money by joining the ICL in India this year and played the whole season. However, our board reacted sharply against it and have already moved to ban all players who play in ICL from not only from the national team, but also from the first class matches within the country.

It just does not add up. The Board does not pay well and makes them live on a frugal salary. Yet if they find a league to make some extra money on their own time, they are banned from representing the national team and playing competitive cricket in their country. The punishment is so severe that it is worse than the punishment one gets for taking illegal substance to enhance their performance. It is totally bizarre!

The concept of control and punishment is as old as the colonial mindset. In today’s world, it has no place. The boards should be enablers and supporters of promoting sports in this era and age. Cricket is a spectator sport with fans now in billions. We do not like to see the boards tell us what we can see and what we cannot. So step back and let us all enjoy the game and if someone wants us to see better cricket, be it ICL, embrace it, not ban it like some maniac dictator.