The news that the IPL has been moved to South Africa rather than England has received a mixed response. There are plenty of people who have condemned the move out of India off hand but we can be sure that Lalit Modi and his men would not have taken such a dramatic decision unless they really had absolutely no choice (unless of course it is one of the most elaborate and high-risk publicity stunts in the history of sport, which I doubt).
It would appear that England was the alternative destination of choice for many of the team owners and a fair few of the players. The ECB themselves were vociferous in expressing their desire to step in, although they are in serious danger of becoming Blair to India’s Bush, suckling at the power teat and bustling around loyally at their feet hoping to snaffle any scraps which may come their way.
But is the fact that England have lost out such a bad thing? I certainly do not think it is for the tournament because, well equipped with facilities and Indian cricket fans though England may be, you cannot escape the fact that it rains here in April. A lot. The enduring image of the early stages of every County Championship season is of players quietly turning pale blue as the effects of 5 jumpers and any number of thermal undergarments fail to counter the effect of the inescapable fact that it is 3 degree Celsius with a wind gusting its way over from deepest Siberia. And that’s when the players are actually on the pitch rather than with their feet up wistfully watching the rain remorselessly cascading down the pavilion window.
These are not conditions conducive to a glamorous, all-singing, all-dancing, fast-paced international sports event.
More than that though, defenders of the well-being of English cricket (rather than the money-motivated sell-outs who actually run the show) should be breathing a sigh of relief. First of all, and without wanting to sound like an old Englander, the IPL is so far at odds with the way cricket is approached in this country that the two are almost irreconcilable. This is not judgment on either approach – whatever works in each country is equally legitimate. But the razzmatazz and brashness of the IPL would not sit well with the lateral understatement employed by English followers of the game. Appealing to a new fanbase is to be encouraged, but not at the expense of the traditional, long-serving supporter.
There is also the question of how it would fit into the calendar at a time of year when the domestic season is establishing itself. Despite assurances to the contrary, county teams would inevitably be affected and inconvenienced with the real danger that they are treated as second class citizens. The ECB would do well to remember that it is these players in whose wellbeing they should be primarily interested, not some second rate spinner from the subcontinent, no matter how much money they think they will make out of it.
All this could prove detrimental to English cricket. The domestic game is struggling to attract supporters and sponsors as it is without being pushed further down the pecking order. Cricket would become even less viable a career for all but the most talented young Englishmen, basically those with a decent chance of gaining international honours. Players will either be lost to the game or go where the money is as they do in other sports. That place is not the County Championship.
It is legitimate to place serious question marks over the decision to offer to host the IPL in the first place, and by extension the judgment of those who made that decision. In a tight schedule at a time when the weather is highly unpredictable, the ECB offered to host a tournament knowing full well that there was a strong chance of many matches being abandoned. They seem to be more interested in the impending cheque and the favour of India than with putting on a decent tournament and are so short-sighted that they fail to realize that hosting a pigs-ear of an event would be hugely damaging to the game and their own standing in it, as if that could fall any lower.
I am not an enormous fan of the IPL as a concept but more of that another time. If it continues to bring publicity and money into the game then we cannot begrudge it. But we already have the Ashes and the Twenty20 World Cup this summer which should be enough for any cricket fan. And for a number of reasons, we should be thankful that the ECB’s latest frantic scramble for money and favour with their Indian counterparts has failed.
By Stuart Peel