Friday, May 9, 2008

IPL: THE NEW HEAT OF ACCOUNTABILITY

The Indian Premier League, so far hogging media space due to leggy cheerleaders and some blistering action on the field, is now in the news also for the first heat of accountability that has claimed the CEO of Bangalore Royal Challengers, Charu Sharma and almost did its coach, Venkatesh Prasad.

As I had written in my previous post on the subject, given the financial stakes involved and the names of those who now own various IPL teams, matches so far have been, and are going to be, fiercely competitive. The other heartening change that the sacking of the aforementioned gentlemen has brought in is that from now on, the axe for poor performance will not fall on the players alone while the administrators laugh all the way to a number of banks, visible and hidden, no matter how teams fare.

It may be recalled that when India performed dismally in the last World Cup, nobody got sack orders, nobody. Even when coach Greg Chappell resigned, there were powerful voices in the BCCI praising his services and requesting him to stay on or take over the National Cricket Academy. Soon, he was rehabilitated with honour in a lucrative position with Rajasthan cricket and brought back to India, where he still is. Favoured team captain Rahul Dravid and the BCCI brigade of politicians, bureaucrats and others living life king size on ’honorarium’ continued unscathed as if nothing had happened!

The same brigade later had no qualms as it elbowed out players and took centre stage to claim credit for India winning the inaugural T20 World Cup. But this is nothing new in India. Whenever the money or organisation does not belong to you, it is considered your right to make best personal use of it, no questions asked, till someone smarter or more powerful gets you out!

Vijay Mallya, the owner of the Royal Challengers, thought he had bought a great set of players in consultation with Charu Sharma and team captain and icon player Rahul Dravid. Then he gave the team a huge dose of glamour by getting skimpily clad American cheerleaders to travel with and cheer for the team in all the matches that it was to play. Mallya the industrialist is used to getting what he wants, be it great liquor companies, airlines, F1 teams, yachts, jets, or the prettiest of women. He hates to lose or have losers in his camp.

So, when the Royal Challengers lost five out of the first seven matches to find themselves most unexpectedly at the bottom of the table, heads had to roll. It is rumoured that coach Venkatesh Prasad was also in the firing line but was retained only because Dravid made it clear that if that were to happen, he too would quit. In the meantime, the team went on to lose its eighth match also to the Kolkata Knight Riders, to be virtually out of the tournament, save a miracle, the impossible kind Indians love!

The new heat of accountability has not been about the firing alone. Shahrukh Khan, owner of the Kolkata team with its dramatic black and gold dress and the catchy team song, had said after his team suffered a defeat that to him losing was not an option. One important player who had been bought by him was Pakistan’s Rawalpindi Express, Shoaib Akhtar. But, before the tournament started, he was given a five year ban by the Pakistan Cricket Board which ruled out his playing in the IPL.

Had the Knight Riders kept on their winning ways, Shoaib would still have been languishing in Pakistan today. But, with the team losing match after match and with only two wins after six matches, something extraordinary happened. The ban on Shoaib was miraculously suspended for a month, enabling him to play in the IPL. This dramatic development took place after intervention at the highest political level in Pakistan, reportedly by Zardari himself. Shahrukh Khan does take his team very, very seriously indeed!

Although team owners have paid a great deal of money to buy some players, including the icons, whom they have contracted for a period of three years, the unexpectedly poor performance of some of them has prompted some owners to consider selling them prematurely, before the next edition of the tournament, even if it means incurring financial losses, (remember, the money belongs to the owners only) to best ensure better performance by their teams.

Next February, when the trading window opens, there will be strange spectacles, depending on the performance of players in the ongoing tournament. You may find, for example, Rahul Dravid being sold off by Mallya but not being bought by any other team, or being bid at such a ridiculously low amount that he may not get himself bought at all, forcing Mallya to pay the entire three year contract amount, just to see him go!

IPL is set to destroy some big names and create new heroes, based solely on what they do in the current tournament. Non-performing officials are also going to find themselves in wilderness soon. The era of the players being almost completely at the mercy of the whims of selectors or other BCCI officials may soon be history as the influence of the owners of various IPL teams is not going to be limited to this T20 extravaganza only. For once, BCCI is going to begin to feel the heat of accountability singe its comfortable and untouched backside.

The present management of the BCCI may have earned a lot of money for the board, if not for its members,(you believe that?) in creating this mother of all show stoppers, the Indian Premier League. Ironically the very success of the tournament and the names and money that it has attracted will ensure that the BCCI will never again be the unaccountable monopolistic behemoth that it has been till now.

That is perhaps even better news for Indian cricket than the IPL itself.