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Money Money!

By Sanjay Jha

The IPL auctions cricket players and reveals that either buyers are dumb or the sellers are dumber.

One statement said it all. No further surgery was required. ‘I have never seen something like this in my life, not even on the cricket field’, boasted the BCCI office-bearer IS Bindra, with the customary cockiness that has become synonymous with BCCI mandarins. Mark the key words, ‘not even on the cricket field’. Wow!

Really, Mr Bindra? Not for him the famous 1983 World Cup triumph of Kapil’s Devils? Sachin Tendulkar’s impeccable mastery? Anil Kumble’s ten-wicket haul against Pakistan? Rahul Dravid’s majestic innings and that exciting victory over Australia at Adelaide? That incredible Natwest win? The improbable finish at Eden Gardens, 2001, and VVS Laxman’s classic 281? Even the unexpected comeback victory at Perth? No! Those enthralling moments that make a game come alive meant nothing to ISB. The T20 triumph at Johannesburg? Nothing mattered to Mr Bindra. Everything paled before an auction.

The commercial circus of player auctions for the IPL at Hilton Towers, that was the real thing. That was India’s greatest cricketing moment in history! Sorry Polly Umrigar, Ramakant Desai, Vinoo Mankad and Vijay Merchant. Also so many unnamed heroes who played a Test match for five rupees in their heydays and stayed in railway coaches.

It was more thrilling for BCCI officials to watch the ‘historic’ player auctions (why was it not conducted behind shut doors or by closed bidding above minimum reserve price?) in 5-star dwellings, big moneybags raising their magic wand, player valuations being announced like the latest stock market update, TV shutterbugs clicking away furiously as the BCCI spokesperson, courting a calibrated arrogance announced the latest acquisition. Thank you, Mr Bindra.

I am all for change. Innovation. Risks. Being the front-runner with new ideas. After all, as they say all growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous, unpremeditated act without benefit of experience. But what has caused deep consternation is the flagrant inconsistencies in the IPL format, and the shockingly non-transparent manner of franchise ownership dole-outs.

I list out some queer queries:

1. How come an ‘ICON’ player ends up earning less than a non-icon player? Pray, what business rationale exists for this silly joke? So if Sachin Tendulkar was a sales item on display yesterday, wasn’t it possible that he would have probably earned more than MS Dhoni? And now, he is earning less than even Andrew Symonds!

We also now have a ridiculous scenario of a Manoj Tiwari (who has played one official match lasting 7 minutes at the crease) fetching a higher price realization than the world’s best batsman, Ricky Ponting.

2. In Hyderabad, we are going to have a captain (the good ole modest VVS Laxman) earning less than his own team members, howzzat? It’s contradictory to any sport’s basic stipulations, as the skipper ought to technically command premium rates.

3. How is it that the selectors (read BCCI) dump Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman etc from ODI cricket and then think they are ICON players for T20? So isn’t it more about encashing their perceived commercial clout than their actual worthiness to the game itself? Hadn’t Sachin too voluntarily opted out of T20? So if this is not just a profiteering business model, what is???

4. Would IPL have even come into existence if it was not because of the ICL creation and that India surprisingly won the T20 World Cup against all odds?

5. Are we to believe that this cash-rich body actually cares about domestic cricket? How many people are aware that the premier championship Duleep Trophy finals being played in Mumbai on the same day as the IPL auction, a few stones throw away from anchon at Hilton? Like the Ranji Trophy finals sometime ago, there was not a single soul to watch the game. What will happen to those young cricketers who will never be discovered if the domestic tournaments are never energized?

6. Nobody would like to grudge the Indian cricketers their handsome windfall, but what is likely to be the individual’s motivation level to play ‘offi cial’ Test or even ODI cricket for a mere pittance (by comparison with IPL earnings)? Surely, then you cannot blame them for becoming T20 ‘specialists’? For many, a high-paying club will be preferred to a low-remunerating country board.

7. Is the BCCI really concerned about player development because with the kind of excess cricket they will now have to play round the year, what will be their burn-out rate? They will become like high-perishable commodities. And isn’t a player’s official records status the most critical factor for being considered ‘ICON’ or marketable under the IPL terms to begin with? So aren’t we somewhere killing the goose that laid the golden egg all over again?

8. Can’t the lure of IPL result in a mad rush-for-gold attitude, make international cricketers rebel (already happening if one reads the veiled threat) and collapse the game elsewhere where the local boards are not as cash-rich (West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan), with players versus board conflicts raging endlessly? With the ICC virtually sleep-walking, isn’t the future of the game at the moment under flux despite the massive resource-raising in India? Isn’t the BCCI effectively running ICC itself?

9. The IPL can only succeed if they get record crowd attendance on grounds. Will the BCCI support the franchisees in blanking out local TV relay for host teams so that it can get the paying public to come to the stadiums? Or are the huge media rights too tempting to tamper with?

10. How transparent have the franchise ownership offerings been? When you have BCCI office bearers themselves buying a franchise, isn’t it a grave issue in terms of conflict of interest? Rumors abound of their being multiple cross-holding and there being a deliberate subterfuge by ‘fronting’ certain other owners? Can we have a clear statement on this?

Is the ‘franchise club’ then an organized structure comprising of independent owners exercising unilateral powers collectively, each in cohort with the other, a sophisticated cartel pushing up asset valuations? You scratch my back, I scratch yours? Your guess is as good as mine.

As they say, the ultimate leveler is finally the paying public. Cricket valuations have gone up because the common man has made it happen. MS Dhoni and company will be fully aware that post the West Indies World Cup fiasco, we had violent public protests and unwarranted brickbats heaped on the team, and the same BCCI which has now become their Uncle Richie Rich, had capped their endorsement deals, alleging that they had become ‘money-minded’. Now the same impertinent parent is doling out magnanimous dollar bundles. The wheel has not just come a full circle, it’s revolving at break-neck speed.

I foresee virulent public reactions should India fail to perform well in international matches because the common man’s game will be now bracketed as an elitist sport played by the rich-boys backed by sugar-daddy’s. The gap between the man who sweats hours to get a North Stand ticket and the punk-haired, ear-ring wearing, in-your face super-brat has now considerably widened. If Indian cricketers flop and fail, they can forget about receiving a warm commiserating pat on the back. Cash or country will dominate headlines well into he foreseeable future. And failure will be treated as an intolerable act of cruelty.

As for the BCCI, the lesser said the better. The so-called success has not just gone into their head, but it has got into their mouth as well.

[February 2008]

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1 Comment on Money Money!

  1. Considering the recent decadence in IPL circus one is bound to heap praise on Sanjay Jha’s incisive wisdom & dissecting adroitness. The article was written in 2008 with clairvoyant foresight & the recent developments have proved the intuition of the columnist entirely vindicated.

    The most glaring predicament of IPL is the prevalence of CONFLICT of INTEREST where BCCI officials have wallowed deep into the slough and have acquired the IPL teams themselves. It smacks & establishes the concept of crony-capitalism in its magnified incarnations.

    IPL is teetering on the verge of its precipitous decline & it can be safely concluded that it will self-destruct rapidly.

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