Is this cricket, or cattle fair?

February 24th, 2008 - 4:41 pm ICT by admin  

By K. Datta
For all those complaints about taxing, unimaginatively planned tour schedules season after season you would have thought our suffering cricketers with tired minds and bodies needed a break for rest and recuperation. But seeing the excitement surrounding the players’ auction for the Indian Premier League (IPL) they appear to be lying. Actually, all that these poor exploited men were doing was asking for more ‘tamasha’ cricket with more money. Show them the money and they’ll forget all about being overburdened with cricket and even injuries.

Forgotten is all that talk about too much cricket. If there are any grouses now, they are only about how come X has fetched a lower price than Y in spite of enjoying a superior rating as a player, or the windfall that has come the way of a boy still to complete his schooling. Money has a way of stoking the baser feelings.

To all those accustomed to old, more dignifying times in cricket, the first ever auction of cricketers, some of them as good and famous as they can get, looked more akin to a cattle fair in Pushkar or Nagaour. The only difference was the cricket auction was a glamorous affair held in front of TV cameras in five-star ambience.

Money is the name of the game. The Indian cricket board has added several hundred crores to its overflowing coffers. Corporates and individuals who can afford it all have been lured into the new game in the hope of raking in profits from their investment. It is even threatening to get addictive, as actor Shah Rukh Khan, who owns the Kolkata franchise, has admitted on record.

As for those hitherto overworked players, they seem to have, expectedly, found a fresh enthusiasm and energy. They are now willing to punish their bodies in the harsh Indian summer.

But coming to think of it, could there have been an IPL had there been no breakaway or “rebel” Indian Cricket League (ICL), a venture that came into being following the failure of a television channel to secure telecast rights from the cricket board.

The earlier exodus to the ICL has been put into the shade by the glare of publicity surrounding the IPL, which is the official thing. The ICL claimed to have opened new vistas for cricketers. The IPL has offered even better moneymaking avenues and attracted more players to its fold.

There was a time in the 1950s and 1960s when a cricketer lucky enough to be selected to play a Test match would be happy to go home richer by Rs.250 at the end of the five-day game. Fifty-over one-day internationals and Twenty20 matches were then still a long way off. Telecasts were unheard of. When TV at last came to India the state-run Doordarshan enjoyed a monopoly to start with. It was with the appearance of private channels that the face of cricket changed. Star cricketers began endorsing products and the cricket board began exploiting the commercial opportunities to swell its coffers. Money, money, and more money.

It became a fashion to describe cricket, first popularised by radio commentary and then by TV, as a religion of the Indian masses. Quite a misleading generalization this, as most generalizations are.

Where do all those masses disappear during Ranji Trophy or Duleep Trophy, although it is in these domestic tournaments that our cricketers endeavour to excel in order to earn the India cap?

But back to the IPL. One would have liked to see Ishant Sharma, brought up on the cricket grounds of Delhi, bowl his 150kmph plus deliveries for his own city team, Delhi Daredevils. But he was bought by Shah Rukh Khan, a Delhi boy himself, for Kolkata and will be bowling superfast to bag the wickets of fellow Dilliwalas like Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir now that he has been paid Rs.3.9 crore. Hardly a way to promote city loyalties.

Let’s wait and see. There may be surprises in store. You may see boys like Pradeep Sangwan, busy playing for India in the Under-19 World Cup when the IPL auction was held, and others like him grabbing new opportunities. The IPL, and even the ICL, are being seen as events opening new career opportunities for young men. Players nursing grouses over the prices at the auction will find their own ways of seeking justice.

Like it or not, the face of cricket has changed irretrievably with each player carrying a price on his head and TV channels and other stake holders coming out with innovative methods to reap profits. But even in this new world of entertainment there are a few who have put country before the lure of a quick million or two. Like Australia’s Michael Clarke whose decision to give the IPL a miss is reported to have gone down well in his country.

(K. Datta is a former sports editor of the Times of India. He can be contacted at

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