Ever since its inception in 2008, the Indian Premier League has consistently been embroiled in controversies. From spot-fixing, Sri Lankan players being banned from playing in Chennai, franchises being suspended for breach of contract, for involvement in fixing, on-field fights, off-field fights to the latest being teams forced to shift venues because of the drought situation in Maharashtra.
Given the plethora of wrangles surrounding the league, the BCCI even hinted at moving the league outside India in 2017.
Amid all these, former India team director Ravi Shastri, now donning the role of a commentator, has come out in support of the IPL, saying people should thank the league for all that it has done for the game instead of criticising it. "What disappoints me is the negative publicity the IPL gets. People just seem to pick up the negatives," Shastri, in his first video interview in almost 15 years, told Firstpost.
"They forget that the negatives are just two or three percent and highlight these. The positives of the IPL are massive. For example, India won the 2011 World Cup, reached three semi-finals and one final at ICC world tournaments. I think you should thank the IPL because that's where the cricketers come from. That's the platform which youngsters get to showcase their talents and it is massive," he added.
The 53-year-old former India all-rounder was also of the opinion that the IPL should ideally be played in India, but described it as an "international property" and that there was nothing wrong in spreading it across the globe. "Ideally the IPL should be played in India. But it's a global product, one of the biggest sporting properties in the world. Going outside, it can go anywhere. It's an international property, it doesn't have to stay here (in India) all the time," Shastri said.
"If you want to spread it across the globe, you can do so. It went to South Africa (in 2009) and was a huge success. It went to the UAE two years ago, and was again a massive success. The people in UAE thought it won't sustain. I know Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak didn't leave one stone unturned. He went out of his way to make sure it became a success and it did," Shastri added.
The advent of T20 leagues, especially the IPL, has changed cricket's ecosystem. There is a huge amount of money involved and the earning capacity of the players has gone several notches higher, something that they might not be able to earn playing for their respective national teams.
According to the salary figures released by the IPL at the start of this year, Virat Kohli of Royal Challengers Bangalore was the highest-paid cricketer in the league, earning Rs 15 crore. A staggering amount. "I have never in my life seen this much money," was Chris Morris' admission when he went from a franchise player at an average contract to a multi-millionaire at the IPL 2016 auction, when Delhi Daredevils signed him for Rs 7 crore.
So is too much money a boon or a curse? Isn't there a fear of youngsters getting carried away with big fat pay cheques at their doorstep? Does it affect the mindset of the players? Shastri is of the opinion that money has only brought security to the players. "You go and ask someone like Virat Kohli, he will be even more hungry, yet you go and ask somebody else whose mindset is a little different, he might be content," Shastri said.
"I think it's done something outstanding for the players. Because the sense of security they get, their lives are secure. They can go out and train the way they want. They can employ people to handle different stuff and they can totally focus on the game without worrying about anything else," he said. "There are a number of people that the IPL benefits; apart from the media, you've got hotels, airlines, it's a massive industry. The traffic that it generates all round, apart from the cricket, is overwhelming," he added.
However, Shastri did emphasise on the necessity of strong mentoring for youngsters. "(Mentoring is) very important, at a young age especially. I am not worried about the money. You get worried about the money when it reaches the hands of someone who is 17 or 18. Then it is very important that there are the right people around him to ensure that he doesn't get carried away. Extremely important," Shastri said.
"I have suggested it in the past as well, a certain amount of money should be kept aside, and given to the player or to the parents after a certain age. And obviously, they will gets this amount with an interest," Shastri added.
One of the biggest talking points in this season's IPL has been the toss. Of the 15 matches, 14 have been won by the teams batting second. Is this robbing the League of competitiveness ? "No, really. You wait till the tournament goes further on," says Shastri. "Once the pitches get a little slower and start assisting turn in the month of May, and players get a little tired, it (results) might swing the other way. It's not necessarily that you win the toss and you win the game. Because in T20 cricket, the sides are evenly matched," he explained.
"It's a matter of two or three overs that can turn the game on its head. You saw the other night where (Krunal) Pandya took two wickets, de Villiers and Virat in one over and the game changed. That made a difference of about 20 runs to the score. Had RCB got 180-190, it might well have been a different ball game. I don't think the toss is that crucial, it just happens that 13 times out of 14, the team winning the toss has won the game," Shastri said.
The IPL is into its ninth year. Foreign players have been an integral part of the league. While it has been a great learning curve for the Indian cricketers, especially the youngsters, it has also helped players from abroad acclimatise themselves with Indian conditions and pitches. It was one of the crucial factors behind West Indies' World T20 victory. However, there is a fear that this might backfire when oppositions tour India.
But Shastri feels that foreign players playing in India has only enhanced India's performance. "That's a case everywhere. When we played the game, we went to England to play County cricket and it obviously helped us when we played in English conditions," Shastri said. "I wouldn't say it has pushed Indian cricket back in any way. I believe in competition, I want competition. I don't want an easy win. It has to be a good contest when you win a game. And if you look at India in the three formats, they are second, second and first. So how can you say it has affected India's performance? My argument will be that it has only enhanced their performance," Shastri signed off.