Another cricket post:
There have been 2 major bits of news relating to cricket over the past week - The sale of the IPL franchises and Adam Gilchrist's decision to retire from Test cricket. Both, in their own way, could signal the end of the cricketing order as we know it.
The IPL first - it's been hailed as the Next Big Thing in cricket, with a lot of positive spin about how having clubs will lead to professional management and more money and so on. I have a feeling it's going to be a mixed blessing, and it will take some time before the dust really settles on what the new structure of cricket will be. Having a club-based league in the Twenty20 format and regional teams in the other tournaments is sure to cause some consternation. How would, say, UP react to Mohammed Kaif captaining them in the Ranji trophy, then playing for Delhi in the IPL? If Sanjay Bangar were to get injured playing Twenty20 for Kolkata, would the Services lodge a complaint with the BCCI? Who gets to use (and promote) the Wankhede as their home ground - Anil Ambani's team or the Mumbai Cricket Association? Why should it be okay for Ishant Sharma to play for Bangalore in the IPL, but not for the South Zone in the Duleep Trophy?
The reason why the club format works in football is because it really is all that exists. Replace it with regional teams (indeed, the fan following has always been localized, at least until the advent of cable TV) and you would get similar results. The key there is good administration and a focus on the long-term success of the teams which helps build the brand.
An extremely important function that football clubs perform in this regard is talent development. For cricket, I think that's going to be crucial - if, and how, the money that will flow into the IPL will go into unearthing new talent and expanding the game's infrastructure. If the clubs choose to leave that aspect to the regional cricket associations without investing their own time and money into it, then there's less incentive for the associations to carry out such development. Here, I have a bit of a problem with the amount of money that is going to flow into getting in the big names like Warne. The very fact that players are willing to sign up even they're past their peak shows that they think this is a way to get some easy cash, and that Twenty20 does not require them to be at the top of their game. Instead, investing in putting together a bunch of fit, young athletes with a point to prove will make the games far more exciting, and help in unearthing new talent. For the business houses too, it would be a more profitable venture to get into endorsement deals with upcoming players rather than the big names - there's anyway going to be a lot of publicity which will translate into the making of new stars- witness Seagram's signing up Uthappa or Marico signing up Sree Santh after their Twenty20 exploits.
This brings me to the other big news - Gilchrist's departure. He has been a fantastic cricketer all these years and his retirement again brings into focus what I feel is the nearing end of a golden generation in international cricket. Over the past 10 to 15 years, we have been fortunate to see cricketers who have been able to straddle all forms of the game - Tests, one-day cricket, even Twenty20 - and succeed like none before, and perhaps, none that may follow, bringing with them a rise in interest in the game. The benchmarks set by them - Tendulkar, Ponting, McGrath, Warne, Murali, Pollock etc - are so high that any pretenders will have a long way to go before being considered to be in the same league. How their successors will meet these heightened expectations remains to be seen.
In turn, how the game's administrative bodies invest in their future, maintaining a steady supply of quality cricketers to meet the ever-increasing demand for more content from the viewing public, will decide the future of the game in the coming years.