Sports - Sunday Musings

Singing for T-20 supper to save it from disaster

Is the Indian Premier League (IPL) T-20 tournament the messiah? Has it brought the answers to the prayers of the downtrodden international cricketers who were underpaid as against their richer brethren who took up more glorious sports?

This is only a part of a statement.
At the same time has this six-inch ruler in cricket -- the T-20 -- managed to introduce innovations and enriched the game?

Then why is this huge cricket carnival losing its glamour and why it needs men who sing for their supper to prop it and run it on their shoulders?First we could talk about the singers and their showers of praises. Mid last week, we read the statement of former South African captain Shaun Pollock who felt that the IPL has done a world of good for the game of cricket and it was turning out to be an excellent laboratory for batsmen and bowlers to innovate more and more. He said this while talking to Indo-Asia News Service (IANS).

Pollock, now a mentor with Mumbai Indians, said the IPL was a fantastic winning formula from whichever way one looked at it, be it the game, players, franchises or spectators.He said cricket had moved ahead amazingly with the IPL, both financially as well as technically. Before the IPL, soccer players, golfers and tennis players were the envy of other sports persons. Now cricketers had joined the big-buck-earners.

The IPL cavalcade goes on...

“The IPL is a platform for cricketers to experiment and try out new things. We have seen bowlers coming up with baffling deliveries and batsmen playing hitherto unknown breath-taking shots," he said.
However, Sri Lanka’s former administrator and selector Sidath Wettimuny, who also could be considered an authority on cricket and a purist, feels that the influence of the IPL on Indian cricket or cricket as a whole has dragged the game backwards. He said the best examples were India’s two Test excursions against England and Australia where the rich kid on the block received two knockout punches – India lost all its Test matches against the two countries. We also still remember at the beginning of the England tour last year where the Lankans went over to that country just after the IPL tournament were struggling with the moving ball – short of proper technique.

Wettimuny attributes this fact to the sloppy technique that is encouraged while the cricketers indulge themselves in the T-20 version of the game. Thus, as a result, the Indian batsmen became vulnerable to the Test tactics of the English and Australian bowlers while the Indian bowlers ran out of ideas on how to get a batsman out if he was determined in building an inning.

Yet the bus does not stop at that halt. On the one hand Test version is still the main component of cricket and the Ashes series between England and Australia still stands at its pedestal. Besides, of late several Test matches have brought enough sparkle and kept the spectators spellbound as it did more than half a century ago.

On the other hand, as a result of the billion plus viewership in the vast Indian continent, the once also ran in cricket has become the kingpins of the game. Thanks to Lalit Modi who conceived the idea of how to beat the ICL (Indian Cricket League), the BCCI stole the thunder of cricket from the rest of the world.

However, the rest of the world too has their eyes set upon this cavalcade and want to be on show. The first to sprout – the Sri Lankan Premier League which was to be held in August 2011 was shot down by the withdrawal of the Indian support and the participation of its cricketers, but its back on the road for August 2012. Meanwhile, South Africa's domestic MiWAY T20 Challenge has ensured it will have an added edge in its next season. The Big Bash League in Australia is already on show. The Bangladesh Premier League also had its fair share of international stars. Zimbabwe too had its own T-20 tournament with some foreign stars.

The question is that if the game is enriched with the T-20 the way the singers sing, then in all countries their own domestic masquerades are going to attract international stars.

Then the problem will be:

1. How is the ICC going to tolerate domestic tournaments attracting international players while the Future Tours Programme is in full force?
2. The spread of the T-20 doctrine would definitely entice more and more cricketers abandon their national crest.
3. How is the ICC going to keep its windows open for all T-20 cricket? This question arises if it decides to accommodate the other domestic tournaments also in the same manner that it has treated the IPL.
At the same time there is a downside to this euphoria, too. While reading last week’s Sunday India, a news item inquired: “Is IPL losing its lustre?”

The article said the television viewership ratings have dropped appreciably and the volume of on-air advertising has dwindled. It said in its fifth edition the official broadcaster -- Set Max is facing some setbacks. “Contrary to expectations, paid commercials between overs have gone down to a trickle. Many of the big brands that people associate with the live telecast of cricket are missing. Television viewership ratings (TVRs) for IPL-5 were down, the news item said. At the same time the volume of on-air advertising has also been affected.”

The news item even suggested that that is why TV cameras keep the empty stands out of sight while the commentators tear their lungs out in simulated excitement. “IPL commissioner Rajiv Shukla has asserted that the success of IPL-5 should be assessed only after it has run its entire course, and not halfway through. Well, that is an obvious admission that the numbers aren't quite adding up at this juncture.”

The Newspaper also added: “Besides this, during the 'strategic time out', a two-and-a-half-minute break taken after every five overs and designed to maximise advertising revenue, the television channel is being compelled to run a string of in-house promos. Clearly, IPL-5 isn't riding the kind of wave that the initial seasons of the tournament did.

“According to TAM (television audience measurement), the average television viewership ratings for the first 16 matches of IPL-5 were down by nearly 10 per cent as compared to the previous season, and stood at 3.65. The decline in TRPs (television rating points) has been steady over the last five years. In the first season, IPL had generated ratings of well above 5.”

Cricket is a game that has survived a century in its purest form. From time to time many a pundit has come up with suggestions to plaster the dwindling fortunes of the game as they felt. So the Limited Overs version and the T-20 version of the game were rushed ashore to save the day.

But, now people are reviewing even the T-20 concept. This does not augur well for the T-20 gramophone singers. Is it that even this tinsel version has lost its sheen?

The ICC must think on its shoulders of how it is going to sustain this game for the next century. It cannot heed one country’s glory or greed.

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