Wednesday, May 21, 2008

CRICKET'S NEW POWER CENTRES PROMISE MUCH

Move over ICC and BCCI. Your time of absolute power and control over cricket is over. Thank God for that.

The inaugural Indian Premier League tournament is not just changing the way cricket is played and watched but is set to change the power structure of the game forever. The new owners of players and teams are beginning to demonstrate that they have not put in huge sums of money just to let the ossified ICC and the BCCI to continue to run the game as they have been for decades.

Vijay Mallya, the owner of the Bangalore Royal Challengers had sounded the first bugle heralding the emergence of a welcome new culture of accountability when he sacked the CEO of the team, Charu Sharma, after the team suffered a string of defeats. He had also rued the fact that he had let Sharma and team captain Rahul Dravid pick the players for the team even though he had wanted some other players who he thought were better suited to the T20 version of the game. Next year onwards, you can bet that Mallya will call all the shots in quite the same manner that he does in his business empire.

Shahrukh Khan, owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders, has got very closely involved with his team. He visits the team in the dressing room and its dug out, and rushes to embrace the players on the ground itself after the team wins a match. Now, as per ICC rules, only players are allowed there. So, the ICC in its usual commanding and arrogant manner, asked Shahrukh Khan abide by the ICC code of conduct and stay away in future. What did King Khan say in response? He said “ they are my boys and I will go and meet them. No one can stop me from meeting my boys. Neither the ICC nor the CBI.”

ICC, the supreme governing body of cricket, has probably never been rebuffed in so brusque a manner by anybody ever. So what does it do? It gives in with alacrity! One team owner per team is now allowed into the dressing room and on the ground!

Shahrukh Khan does not visit his boys just to give them a hug. He is actively involved in the selection process too and, as per reports in the media, has some differences with team captain Saurav Ganguly on this score. Ganguly likes to be totally in command. But Shahrukh has given John Buchannan, the coach, a leg up over him. He has put in a lot of money to buy the team and the players. Naturally, he is not going to sit by passively and let Saurav, purchased by him, run the show. The boss will actively interject and, with a little more experience, be the final authority in most cricketing matters off the ground. Shahrukh Khan is the new dada. The sooner people understand this basic change, the better.

The IPL has proved to be bigger than anybody ever anticipated. Shahrukh Khan, who was initially even willing to write off his investment when he bought the Kolkata team, says he has actually earned twice the amount of money he has put in already. No wonder, then, that Mukesh Ambani, owner of the Mumbai Indians is rumoured to have made an offer of $4 million to England’s Kevin Pieterson to play for his team next year. This amount is, yes, nearly three times the $1.5 million for which the currently most expensive player, MS Dhoni, was bought by the Chennai Super Kings!

Mukesh Ambani, the granddaddy of all team owners, has characteristically not made any loud, flamboyant noises. But be sure that he is the real heavy artillery that will make the maximum impact on the direction that the world of cricket will take in future. And we are not talking only IPL.

The stupendous success of the IPL and its huge revenue generating and advertising potential is going to totally alter the manner in which cricket is going to be played in the future. The scope and scale of IPL is going to grow dramatically in the coming years. Test and One Day cricket, played so far only between national teams of cricket playing countries is also going to undergo a major transformation.

Don’t be surprised if mixed teams, owned by ultra rich individuals like Mukesh Ambani, emerge in these two formats too. Don’t also be surprised if the formats and rules of the game are substantially altered to make the game more exciting and fast paced. Changes dictated solely by the demands of enhancing spectator and TV viewer involvement and interest will be put in place sooner than we might imagine now. This will be accompanied by an unprecedented push to take the game to many more countries. International cricket between teams representing their countries will reduce and will most likely be limited to World Cups only eventually.

Neither the ICC nor the BCCI will be in any position whatsoever to use the whip as they have been able to do till now. Kerry Packer may have lost the first ever battle with the ICC in the 70s. The rebel Indian Cricket League(ICL), promoted last year by the Zee Group, may have been successfully stymied by the BCCI. But they are no longer unchallengeable.

The IPL genie that has now been let out by the BCCI to beat the ICL is simply too strong and powerful for either the ICC or the BCCI, or both, to tame or control. On the contrary, the new centres of power released by this great genie are going to put these two institutions into the bottle, should they even try to assert their unimaginative supremacy that has seen little growth in the game ever since nations started playing it.

Nothing better could have happened for cricket and the millions who already love the game, as well as the millions who are going to be attracted to it across the globe in the coming years. Thanks to the powerful and committed owners of IPL teams, the future of world cricket is full of promise and excitement. And big bucks, of course.