But is that a good thing, or not so much? For a definitive answer to that one needs to touch on a lot of aspects.
There is no doubt that the league and its money have created multiple opportunities and offer a career path for cricketers, besides laying out a new road to donning the national colours. The money coming in strengthens the Indian board (BCCI) further and helps channel more funds to improve Indian cricket at various levels.
On the other hand, it can’t be overlooked that the IPL fame and money can sometimes threaten to take precedence over playing for the country. This is, perhaps, particularly true for the foreign cricketers, many of whom would want to come and play in the cash-rich league, where they command the big bucks. For most youngsters, India or foreign, the biggest challenge comes after they have secured a big contract. For a 19- or 20-year-old to bag a life-changing contract worth crores is something that is not always easy to deal with. Staying grounded, with the help of family and other support structures, becomes vital. Some manage to do it, others don’t.
That threat turns real when aspiring and upcoming cricketers start looking at T20 leagues around the world either as a shortcut or an alternate cricketing career.
But is that worth it, or are the youngsters willing to change the way they look at it?
Not every young cricketer who strikes it rich at the IPL auction goes on to have a successful career.
SHORTCUTS DON’T MAKE YOU LAST
American actor Gary Busey once said: “If you take shortcuts, you get cut short.” That instantaneously reminds you of names like Pawan Negi.
In 2016, when Delhi Daredevils (now Delhi Capitals) splurged Rs 8.5 crore to buy spin-bowling all-rounder Negi, he became the most expensive Indian to be bought at the auction. But that didn’t transform into an international career. As an India player, he has played just one T20I, and is now a forgotten name.
An interesting comparison to understand this is Cheteshwar Pujara. The last of the 30 IPL games he has played came way back in the 2014 season. He has never played a T20I for India and the count of his ODI caps is just five. But Pujara still remains relevant. Why? Because he has played 95 Tests and continues to be backed despite a slump in form in red-ball cricket.
It can’t, though, be denied that Negi has made a living out of the IPL by earning the amount of money he has. On the other hand, he has played just three first-class matches, the last of which was in 2015.
Examples such as Negi’s have, thus, driven a change in the approach of youngsters.
“Of course, because IPL has so much stardom and fame, it is on everybody’s mind,” 25 year old all-rounder Lalit Yadav, who has played for Delhi Capitals, told TimesofIndia.com.
THE IPL CRICKETER
Former India all-rounder Vijay Bhardwaj, who has served as an assistant coach for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the past, concurs with Yadav, but points out a misconception in the mind of most parents who bring their kids to training academies.
“Now every parent wants his kid to play in the IPL, then for India,” Bhardwaj told TimesofIndia.com. “And you know the kind of things they say? ‘Sir, my kid should play for India. If not, he should at least play the IPL’. What do you mean by ‘at least’? It’s not easy. Everybody thinks their kid can play for an IPL team. It’s a different skill-set altogether.
“Aspiring is not a crime but…it’s not easy to make it to any of the franchise-based cricket leagues because…the scrutiny that you go through is something phenomenal,” added Bhardwaj, who now does commentary in Kannada for Star Sports.
Lalit Yadav’s statement from his personal experience in the 2021 edition of the IPL puts Bhardwaj’s words into perspective. “As you start playing, you actually know how things work,” said the batting all-rounder.
HOW T2O LEAGUES CAN AFFECT TEST CRICKET
But for the purists and old-school experts, franchise cricket is a recipe for disaster and the biggest threat faced by Test cricket and aspirations to represent the country.
West Indies, for instance, has arguably focussed more on T20 cricket in the last decade, especially after their success in the 2016 T20 World Cup.
The ‘Caribbean Kings’ of Test cricket of the earlier decades have struggled in red-ball cricket since the turn of the century. They are currently No. 8 in the ICC Test rankings, only above Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
Vijayan Bala, author and the voice of cricket commentary on All India Radio for years, makes some interesting observations, especially related to the West Indies.
“I am very shocked why they (West Indies) classify certain top-class cricketers, like Nicolas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer in particular, as only limited-overs players,” said Bala while talking to TimesofIndia.com.
“They are world class players who have to be groomed by players like Desmond Haynes, so that they learn the art of playing long innings, and they can be wonderful Test cricketers. That’s where the West Indies have gone wrong.
“People like Pooran and Hetmyer are like what Gary Sobers and Rohan Kanhai were in the late ’50s and early ’60s. They were also raw talent that was groomed by Sir Frank Worrell who gave them opportunities, responsibilities and brought them up. These two have the same type of talent,” added Bala.
On the contrary, the image of Pooran and Hetmyer in the eyes of the youngsters is that of slam-bang cricketers, who can come and take the bowlers on from the word go. If the transformation that Bala talks about is overlooked and doesn’t happen, it could be a loss for West Indies and Test cricket overall.
CLUB vs COUNTRY
That transformation, however, requires a lot of patience and hard work. The route to earn a Test jersey is a far tougher grind than earning an IPL contract. In the Indian context, a player needs to come through zonal cricket, the Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy, etc., before playing Test cricket.
In the age of IPL and other T20 leagues, and the quick fame and money on offer that comes with it, the focus required to become a Test cricketer could sometimes potentially be seriously challenged. Only a handful are able to manage that despite their involvement in franchise cricket.
“I have been a player before the IPL and I have been coach of one of the franchises in the IPL. I have been an analyst for three of the franchises and now I am commentating. So I have seen the growth of each kid and those people who have been in the pre-IPL era,” Bhardwaj, who retired from Test cricket in 2006, further told TimesofIndia.com.
“How many people will get to play for India? My number was 223 as a Test cricketer, 196 as a one-day cricketer. So imagine, in the history of Indian cricket, there were only 195 (ODI) players preceding me. So how many were lucky to play for India?
“The money and the demand are in T20 cricket. The future will also be the same. The dynamics are totally different.”
With that statement, Bhardwaj also dropped a hint that franchise cricket may rule over the desire to play for the country. However, setbacks like the one England suffered in the Ashes recently force players and boards to think otherwise.
Australia drubbed the English team 4-0 in a five-Test Ashes series and as a result, some of their players, including Test captain Joe Root and high-profile all-rounder Ben Stokes, have withdrawn from the upcoming IPL auction on February 12-13.
“Thank God they have realised it now,” said Bala.
Back home, youngsters like Yadav are keen to strive for Test jerseys and keep the flame burning.
“IPL is a good thing, but it’s not everything. If I want to play for India, I have to do well in Ranji as well as the IPL.”