Saturday, February 23, 2008

Indian Premier League- Revolution by design?

Well the storm in the cricket world has not calmed down. In many ways it is only getting hotter. There are so many opinions flying around at the moment that it is hard to get a grasp on them all and condense them in to any sort of neat conclusion. I have a few theories of my own that I would like to develop.

I have been saying for a little while that cricket needs a revolution. The ICC hold a very tight reign on the game and there is little room to budge outside of their boundaries. Cricket has long been seen as the gentleman's game, but there really aren't too many walking around in top hats and coats with canes anymore.

But is the impending revolution good for cricket? This is yet to be seen and could supposedly go either way.
An examination of the facts is in order. Cricket is an ancient game and it has a lot of traditions. Coming into the 1960s the English were experimenting with the game. As often as the English get accused of being slow to accept change, they are the ones who have often brought in new innovations. The English developed the 60 over per side game in the 1960s. The original concept was to give each team one innings to bat. A test match lasts five days. On average one innings takes one day. The fifth day is supposed to help encourage a result. A days play usually lasts 90 overs. So the 60 over concept was to give each team a full innings to bat, as much as could be squashed into one day. When these games originally began people did not think about scoring runs fast, they were still trying to protect their wickets.

The game then evolved. It was decided that 60 overs per side was too much to squeeze into one day. Fifty overs per side was a more manageable amount. The early world cups were played with 55 overs per side. Scoring was not high.

A young Dennis Lillee.

The next big change was the World Series revolution brought on by Kerry Packer in Australia in the late 70s. He wanted to wrestle the tv rights away from ABC to his network GTV 9. The conservative approach of the Australian Cricket Board (A.C.B) meant that they would not negotiate with Kerry Packer, so he made his own money do the talking. What followed was very successful for him. Super Tests, Australia vs a World XI and the first World Series Cup limited overs games (until that point the only limited overs games were at the world cup and English county level) proved to be popular among the Australian public. The money that Packer offered was significantly more than the A.C.B could pay players. His revolution was successful. Within a few years A.C.B rewarded the tv rights to Packer and a new World Series Cup (tri-nations tournaments) was played every Summer in Australia. This was indeed a revolution in cricket. Coloured clothing and day-night matches came in through Australia. Now they are common place. England started the limited overs concept, Australia delivered the revolution.

When the World Series revolution came in the late 70s, everybody thought that the death of test cricket was imminent. (A little like people said VCRs would kill the cinema, or how people today say that downloading will kill the music industry.) Everybody was wrong (apart from those that disagreed!) One day cricket has only strengthened the game of cricket. Players over the years learnt to score faster. This eventually transferred to test cricket. In the early days of World Series cricket, a run rate of 4 an over was considered acceptable and 5 an over was high. Today in one day cricket a run rate of 6 an over is more acceptable. A run rate of 4 or 5 is normal in test cricket, where as 2 or per over was once normal in test cricket. One Day cricket has in turn made test cricket exciting.

But, let's not forget why One Day cricket was invented in the first place, for mass entertainment and profitability. These values seem to be so normal these days. Values of honour and loyalty are almost a thing of the past. This makes Justin Langer's decision to honour his County Cricket commitments and not play in the Indian Premier League, all the more remarkable.

One Day cricket was developed for fast entertainment, as has Twenty20 cricket. The unititiated may think that Twenty20 has been invented because test cricket is boring. This is a lack of understanding. Test cricket is like a mature wine. Twenty20 is like a can of coke. There is some overlap between the two markets, but they are actually separate markets. The reality is that Twenty20 does not threaten test cricket, but 50 overs cricket. Within five to ten years Twenty20 will be thriving and 50 overs cricket will be fading out. Test cricket will stay strong and even grow stronger as the run rates continue to rise off the back of Twenty20. Once again it has been England who have delivered the concept, this time it is India delivering the revolution.

Cricket has been at a low point internationally for at least a few years now. The Australian team have been so strong, which while it is a lot of fun for Australians, is not much fun for anyone else. The ICC have been weak in so many areas of managing the game. (I have written about this on other occasions, you can read these examples by clicking the "cricket" label in the side bar.) The World Cup in 2007 was a low point. Shortly following India's exit from the World Cup, the owner of Zee Tv announced he would set up a rebel competition, the "Indian Cricket League." He had an idea to carry out a revolution and could have been successful. Perhaps the BCCI learnt from the ACB's mistakes in the 70s. They did not let the ICL and Zee TV win the day. The Indian Premier League has been a reaction to the ICL.

The IPL is a successful concept because it is approved by the BCCI. The most popular Indian players can continue to play test cricket while playing in the IPL. Had they played for the ICL they would have forfeited their international careers. The IPL is also successful because there is a LOT of money being thrown at it. Each of the 8 franchises were sold by BCCI for $700 million. The TV rights were sold for $800 million. That is a total of US $6.4 billion. No other cricket board in the world can ever dream of such money. The ICC can never dream of such money. Overnight the BCCI have become the most dominant force in cricket. Their pulling and pushing power now outweighs all cricket boards and the ICC combined.

This is a coup in world cricket, Just exactly what will result remains to be seen. The old guard are not happy though. The ECB have not allowed any English cricketers to play in the IPL. The county clubs are insisting that all contracts be honoured. Meanwhile the BCCI and IPL are putting pressure on the ICC to create an official six week window for the tournament every year and pressure on the ECB to change the county calendar.

Could Australia or England or South Africa come up with a competition to actually rival the IPL? That is highly doubtful. India has the world's biggest booming economy now. Growth is outstripping China. The middle class in India outnumber the population of the USA. Everybody wants a slice of the Indian market. For the first time there is now an Indian owned Formula 1 team this year named "Force India." (Since when have Indians ever been in to Formula 1 and motor racing?) Cricket is big in India, very big. If any marketer wants to be successful in India, then they would do well to have a cricketer market their product. There is just no way to compete with the economic force of India.

There might not be enough money for a direct rival competition, but there is still money elsewhere apart from India. Cricket Australia and the ECB should fast rethink their strategy. It is agreed by all cricket lovers that test cricket must survive. But why hold on tightly to 50 overs cricket? It should be scrapped at the nearest opportunity from the Summer calendar. International games do not need to be played often at either the Twenty20 or 50 over level. These can be reserved for the odd "friendly" game, World Cup tournaments and World Cup qualifiers, much like in soccer. The calendar should be divided between Twenty 20 Super Leagues and test cricket. Take the example of Rugby Union in the southern hemisphere. The first three months of the rugby season are played out in a "Super 14" by professional teams from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The second three months of the rugby season are reserved for international test matches.

Australia, New Zealand and South Africa would be wise to act soon and set up a southern hemisphere Twenty 20 Super League. England and the Carribean countries can do the same in the northern Summer. Pakistan, Sri Lankan and Bangladesh teams and players can join in an expanded Indian Premier League. So long as enough room is left in the calendar for test matches and world cups, such a plan will work.

If a workable compromise in not sought soon with the money makers of the game, then they will continue to advance their take over bid. Where that will end is anybody's guess.


Vignan said...

Nice post, but some corrections:

All the eight franchises were sold for $700 million, it is not $700 million each. And the $800 million deal for broadcasting rights is spread over 10 years.

But yes, it still is a lot of money.

Pasha said...

Thanks for the correction Vignan. Sorry I missed that. That is a little relieving, that means there is 1.5 billion spread out over ten years. Not as big as I thought. Look, I am happy to see IPL successful, I just hope we get something similar in Australia, and that we can all continue to enjoy the main prize and glory of Test cricket.
Enjoy your cricket Vignan. Maybe together we can turn it into the world number one sport.

Pasha said...

P.S Vignan. Have you heard that the BCCI have plans to invest their earnings from the IPL in staging Tweny 20 in the USA?