The Indian Premier League (IPL) 2022 auction was an eye-opener for the direction in which Indian cricket is heading. The popularity of the franchise-based T20 version around the world has, in all respects, powered its way ahead of the conventional as well as the 50-overs ODI formats. The paucity of time and the fast pace of life are some of the reasons being cited. However, it is the aggression and pulsating simplicity of the T20 format that has made it a success.
Cricket, since its inception, was always played in an aggressive and bold manner. The ball was there to hit and one did so then as a sign of power and masculinity. Village cricket in England was a great example of it and gradually patience, cautiousness, and smartness brought about a change.
In every corner of India, one can see cricket being played. Tennis-ball cricket is the most common mode of play. This is because it does not need the paraphernalia of the protective gear required to play with a seasoned cricket ball. The interesting thing to observe while watching cricket on the open spaces of land in India is that the bowler tries bowling his fastest whereas the batsman swings to hit it as far as possible. Blocking the ball is rarely an option. A few do go into the art of spin bowling with variations via their subtle finger and wrist movement.
The recently-concluded IPL auction has highlighted these very traits of Indian as well as international cricketers. The mighty hitters, the pacers and the unconventional spinners were all the favourites and ones who were in demand. This may seem as a progress to some but one can see the gradual demise of the conventional style of the game. Test and first-class cricket will be the major sufferers as cricketers will rather skill themselves in the art of hitting rather than in technique-driven batting.
A few years ago, I was given a book written by David Nicol, an Australian writer, on “Hitting with firepower”. It lay on my shelf as I felt that cricket needed one to master the basics before sauntering into such unconventional stroke-play. How wrong I was, as the young Indian cricketers of today have only one dream and that is to play in the IPL.
For them to do so, they have to master skills of hitting the ball to all parts of the ground, as well as to whack it into the stands at will. One wonders as to how this will affect the conventional style of batting, especially when one is playing the longer format of the game.
An Indian cricketer, quite understandably, is drifting away from playing Test cricket or even first-class domestic cricket for the commercially lucrative and more glamorous IPL. With 10 teams in the fray, the franchises require 170 Indian players. The minimum earnings for two months of cricket is 20 lakhs. This is a far cry from an Indian cricketer making it into the Indian Test team, ODI or even a T20 side.
A domestic cricketer barely earns 20 lakhs playing the whole season for his state side and so even being a part of an IPL squad is worth his while. Therefore, for an Indian cricketer skilling himself in the art of batting or bowling with a T20 mind-set is what he aims to do for his personal success. This gives him a better chance to make it into an IPL team and also gives him a platform to catapult himself directly into the Indian national side. This has now become the trend in Indian cricket.
The only domestic tournament that has reference to a player coming into the radar of the IPL owners and talent hunters or even the Indian selectors is a cricketer’s performance in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament.
The IPL auction was a great indicator that established and branded Test players have no place in the slam-bang version of the game. One fails to understand as to how some of the giants and proven batsmen and bowlers failed to get a substantial bid, and some even remained unsold.
This is a worrying issue, as for these icons of Test cricket not finding a place could become a major influence as to why one would shun playing Test cricket for the next generation of cricketers.
The annual retainer contract that the BCCI has given to 28 of the top Indian players is a good initiative. Similar contracts, one feels, should be also given to the state players to incentivise them to play first-class cricket.
The rewards that accrue from the IPL give the BCCI a wonderful opportunity to channelise and organise the fee structure for Indian cricketers. Furthermore, they need to seriously look at how to save and preserve a part of the money received by their young as well as established cricketers for their future. The world over, there are umpteen examples of well-paid sportsmen in their prime getting into financial difficulties later on in their lives.
One is happy that many of the Indian cricketers are earning a substantial amount of money at present. However, ensuring that their future is comfortable and secured is as much of a responsibility of the BCCI.
The IPL is a success story that one feels will grow exponentially in the years to come. Indian cricket depends on it to strengthen its roots and to make it flourish. It is an ideal platform to enhance Test cricket rather than eat into it.
One hopes that the IPL does not become the dagger that stabs Test cricket in India. From the look of it, at present it seems so.