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Cirque d’IPL

Posted by chakrabarti on May 9, 2010

Mukul Kesavan articulated almost everything I have wanted to say about the way BCCI runs Indian cricket.  “Disneyfication” is an apt term to describe the whole process of monetization that’s been undertaken on steroids since the advent of Twenty20 and IPL, with “DLF Maximum” sixes, “Karbon Kamaal” catches and “Citi Moments of Success” (assuming that’s wickets), blonde cheerleaders, so on and so forth. Not that this is the first time money has determined how much cricket is played and in what formats. Test cricket, after all, has gotten step-motherly treatment ever since the World Cup victory of ’83 and the increased popularity of limited-overs cricket in the subcontinent since then. It is just that the degree of commercialism has skyrocketed ever since the administrators found that an even-shorter version of the game could be viably marketed to a wider audience, and greater profits could be raked in by having movie stars and glamorous business tycoons invest in such franchises.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, to quote a certain famous sitcom line.  To my mind, there’s no contemporary sport that doesn’t need to generate profits in order to sustain itself and flourish. Yet, what’s been a pet peeve of mine, and what Kesavan captures exquisitely in his piece, is the sheer crassness with which the BCCI has gone about its business, sacrificing the international cricket calendar and the well-being of players in the quest for reaching a broader audience.

Money quote:

Can you imagine Fifa placing its biggest bets on seven-a-side football? Or the USPGA hustling the Augusta National Golf Club into scrapping the Masters and replacing it with a six hole Pro-Am tournament, which then becomes the centre-piece of America’s golfing calendar? ……….. Of course you can’t. But you don’t have to stretch your imagination in the case of cricket because that is, in fact, what the BCCI has done to the game.

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Amen! More importantly, the author is careful to not scapegoat Lalit Modi and his alleged failures at administering this T20 circus, while giving the rest of the folks who have run the board for years (Pawar, Dalmiya, Muthiah etc.) a pass. In fact, there’s a real danger that all the controversy that has been stirred following the Modi-Tharoor spat over the Kerala franchise will not lead to a bigger investigation into the opacity and shady practices that the Board has engaged in for years. That would be history repeating itself as tragedy, reminiscent of the way the match fixing crisis was handled, where there was no public inquiry into the wheelings and dealings of bookies and consorting players, simply ad-hoc bans that were handed out to players allegedly found “guilty”.
However, I am a little skeptical of having the government step in to “clean up the mess” as suggested at the end of the article. Having a government that’s influenced by many of the same characters (Pawar, Tharoor, Rajiv Shukla etc.) run a house-clearing operation is very likely to end up as a musical chairs exercise, with a few token heads rolling, while the underlying structure that has been running the show for the past several decades is left intact. A more radical solution would be to go the whole nine yards by privatizing Indian cricket, either through a transparent bidding process, or by making BCCI a publicly traded company to be regulated as a corporate entity, with a mandate of not just playing more T20s at the expense of 5-day cricket, but to look after the long-term interests of the game.

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