KKR’s dream gives us a hint to how they see cricket’s future

Balance needed between formats, franchise, and international cricket and also between enriching corporates and enriching the sport

Balance needed between formats, franchise, and international cricket and also between enriching corporates and enriching the sport

The cat is beginning to slip out of the bag. The chief executive of Kolkata Knight riders has been quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying that IPL franchises hope to contract players for 12 months of the year to play for their different teams. 

“If we were able to have X number of contracted players, and were able to use them all in different leagues, I think that would be nirvana. Hopefully, someday it will happen,” Venky Mysore told the newspaper.

Meanwhile Ravi Shastri, player, coach and television pundit, in a podcast batted for two IPL tournaments in a season, the second a shorter knockout.

Ominous signs

An IPL bigwig (KKR have four teams in the world of franchise cricket) has spoken, a cheerleader of the IPL has done so too. The signs are ominous.

It does not take great imagination to see a handful of rich franchises running world cricket, deciding who plays where, and by extension, settling on where it is more profitable to lose.

Venky Mysore has said, “What we want to create is a common platform and a system and a culture that allows us to participate around the year — enhancing our brand, building our fan base, and providing opportunities to cricketers around the world. And in the process, you build a successful business around it.” This is the me-generation with enormous disposable income.

Should we read this as the boast of a successful businessman or a peep into the future of the game whose oldest and most storied version might be struggling? Or a dipping of the toes in the water to check its temperature?

It is vital for the international game that the administrators recognise the signs. If they display their usual lethargy, it might be too late. Franchise cricket, where the bottom line is all that matters, could replace international cricket before they know it. For a sport that is constantly moving forwards, attempting to go back or to restore

Future plans

What plan does the International Cricket Council and its strongest member, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, have for the game for the next three, five or ten years? A plan beyond tours and tournaments, World Cups and television deals? A survival plan, if you will. What will they emphasise, what will they allow to drop away?

Ian Chappell put it simply in his column when he said, “The future of the game needs thoughtful consideration. A firm decision is needed on how many playing formats are best for cricket. Once that is decided, it then needs to be confirmed how the formats should move ahead to ensure the game evolves.”

There is already too much cricket being played to the detriment of players’ physical and mental health. If in future the players are contracted to T20 franchises the year around, other formats will simply drop out. That might be nirvana for KKR and others, but that’s a limited, even dangerous way of looking at it.

To an audience used to three formats, each with its own special features, will repetitious T20 matches be as satisfying? The franchise matches could be played in India or Australia or the Caribbean, but in a real sense they are all being played at the same venue: television. Do the shorter games have the complexity and provoke the range of emotions that the longest does?

This is not a plea for focus on Test cricket to the exclusion of everything else. What we need is balance: between formats, between franchise and international cricket, between enriching corporates and enriching the sport.

Variations are interesting, but…

Whatever the current popularity of T20, it is useful to remember that it evolved when the one-day game was being considered boring and predictable; now there is T10 that is gaining ground. Variations are interesting (The Hundred in England is another format), but they are just that — variations. The real thing is a game of two innings played over three, four or five days.

For the moment, Venky Mysore’s plan might be a pipe dream. For one, there is little uniformity in recruitment across the different leagues; for another, Indian players are not allowed to participate outside the IPL. Most importantly, the BCCI will not cede control (the intention is in its name!) of its players to corporates.

But compromise is the name of the game, and any number of schemes can be worked out where the BCCI gets its pound of flesh while the franchises actually decide the future of the game.

If all that sounds like an exaggeration, it probably is at this stage. But just as science fiction has heralded some of the inventions and discoveries in science, personal dreams of important stakeholders in the game can be harbingers of the direction the game takes.

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