April 15, 2008

Leagues and sports

An Indian cricket league is something I've always dreamt off. Imagine having your own home team to root for, wear their jerseys, cheer for the franchise player, buy season tickets, the whole nine yards! As much as I loved living in Hartford Connecticut, I couldn't help but feel a bit sad that we never had any city teams in any of the leagues (basketball, baseball, football...). No, I've never been a fan of the New England Patriots, so that doesn't count.

Anyway, we now have two cricket leagues in India; ICL (the rebel league) and IPL (the BCCI's answer to the rebel league). Neither of these are along the lines of what I imagined. I always assumed that a state's Ranji Trophy team would be marketed in a different way, people would get to know up and coming players from their state or city, maybe the matches themselves would be televised, stadiums packed and so on due to the marketing effort. Unfortunately, that's where the business aspect of sports comes in to play. Owners of these league teams are successful businessmen, actors and the like. The bottomline for them is ROI (return on investment) not talent encouragement. Hence all the league teams have international cricketers that have been bought for huge amounts of money (well, not all expensive....sorry, Ricky Ponting) and a couple of Indian youngsters, who might make it into the Indian team if they perform well at this level.

As much fun as it is to watch these games, I can't help but wonder what the difference between this and regular first-class cricket is (ok, format is T20 not 50-50). But shouldn't the INDIAN Premier league have only Indians playing in it? Shouldn't the league be a stepping stone for local talent to perform well and thereby act as a screening for the national team? One can argue that the Ranji Trophy teams are there for that reason alone but I think everyone knows that the truth is far from it. Players do not get in purely on merit. Favouritism is the name of the game. A star player has his 'chumchas' and refuses to play unless they are in the team...and so on. With the BCCI sitting on so much cash, its tough to say how this will pan out in the long run and how much good it is going to do for Indian (and World) cricket.

It feels a bit strange to see Glenn Mc Grath in a Delhi Daredevils tee or Shane Warne as captain of the Rajasthan Royals. I wonder how it feels for the players to be donning jerseys of cities or states that they have nothing in common with. Does money make that awkwardness go away? Does money replace pride and love of the game? Is this the future of all sports?

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