The world-wide chorus for some form of IPL to be staged either in India or elsewhere is a clear indication that there is a near-universal acknowledgement that world cricket would be in a good place only if Indian cricket is on song.
The impact of IPL goes way beyond its US$ 7 billion brand value and the fat pay cheques that star players draw. There are scores of organisations that ride on it, including more than 100 team sponsors from industries as varied as mobile phones, telecommunications, cement, air-conditioners, televisions, finance companies, education, liquor, soft drinks, paints, cars, hospitals, food, food delivery, insurance, banks and dozens of others.
Then there is the broadcaster, social media outlet, hospitality industry, travel, event management, outdoor and other forms of advertising and scores of media companies and their employers that feed off the IPL.
It is this ready and sure-fire availability of diverse sponsors and assorted stakeholders that make IPL such a necessity to ignite world cricket as soon as these challenging times thrown up by the COVID-19 are overcome. Thus, the universal desire that it could be pulled off sometime during the year.
It is obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated world cricket and set it belly up:
· England’s season has been ripped apart and the attendant loss of revenue has crippled counties. The Hundred, ECB’s much-touted innovation in limited-overs cricket, which was to be launched with much fanfare, looks a doubtful starter. Counties have already taken a massive blow with their season yet to start and staff has been furloughed (leave without pay). Professional cricketers (their agents, families, sundry folks) are left staring at huge pay cuts.
· Cricket Australia, despite completing most of its season, has seen its hard-earned financial investments in stocks and shares go up in smoke owing to the current economic downturn. Their staff has had their wages cut by 80 percent even as CA seeks to place some of them in the employ of supermarkets.
· West Indies players have not been paid January's installment of their contract.
· South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and other boards are all reeling under loss. The US$ 7 million July pay out (half-yearly amount; varies from country to country) from the ICC looks unlikely, especially if television deals connected to ICC property events do not go through.
Of immediate concern for some of these nations is the T20I World Cup, scheduled for October this year.
Pakistan Cricket Board chief Ehsan Mani who was quoted as saying in PCB’s podcast that his country did not need India to survive and keep its finances flowing, nevertheless confessed that Pakistan were in a desperate shape and that ‘if the World T20 in Australia gets disrupted the financial fallout from that will be very big’.
It is thus apparent that world cricket needs India like never before. And certainly, India must take the lead in redrawing schedules to meet the needs of the situation.
Sure, England have an ambitious calendar of international cricket planned for the summer which includes Test series against West Indies and Pakistan and limited-overs series against Australia, besides matches against Ireland. But it is likely that none of it might see daylight, especially if COVID-19 and travel restrictions stayed in place.
Unlike England dithering between their The Hundred and international cricket, Cricket Australia seem focused on pulling off the Test series against India later this year. They confess that they would take a devastating 300 million dollars hit in television revenue if the lucrative series is called off and their anxiety is apparent in the list of unheard-of measures presented.
This includes playing all Tests (from four to five) at the Adelaide Oval and without any spectators. The Tests and warm-up games would be beamed over live television for worldwide audiences.
They have offered a brand new 138-room luxury hotel in which South Australia Cricket Association has a 50 percent stake in management for the exclusive use and quarantine of the Indian team.
The Aussies have floated this quarantine concept for New Zealand Warriors in their National Rugby League event scheduled to start on 28 May. If that could be pulled off successfully, then hosting India would become that much easier.
In any case, hosting the Indian team would be far simpler than juggling with 15 countries over seven venues in the ICC T20I World Cup during October-November this year.
Besides the obvious mega bucks that will come their way, India (360 points) and Australia (296 points) would like the Tests to go ahead to retain their top positions in the World Test Championship race to the 2021 final in England. The third and fourth-placed teams, New Zealand (180) and England (146) are far behind. Of course, many Tests still need to be gone through against the backdrop of COVID-19 and it would come as no surprise if the final was put off by one year.
But all that is in the distant future. Of immediate concern for BCCI is the IPL. One window of opportunity might be the August-September period when many state T20 leagues, like Karnataka Premier League, Tamil Nadu Premier League, etc were held. But the impact of South-West monsoon, particularly on the west coast of Mumbai could be a challenge.
A more likely scenario is the IPL being staged in September-October with the T20I World Cup (18 October onwards) being put off by a year. This would ensure that many negotiations, where some give and take happens, fall in place: BCCI staging its IPL this year; CA getting India to play five Tests; England who are free in December being accommodated; T20I World Cup and WTC final being rescheduled. England’s white-ball cricket series in India could also be postponed to early 2021.
It is no secret that the Big Three (India, England, Australia) are the drivers of the game and their needs should be looked after first. Thus events like Asia Cup, ICC ODI League, Tests against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or some others must come way below in priority.
Now, more than ever before, world cricket needs a strong and united BCCI to take the lead. The situation is ripe to reverse the wrongs of the ICC gang-up against a CoA-weakened BCCI. The obvious way to ensure this would be to stage IPL as soon as the COVID-19 threat is overcome and then drawing up an action plan to leverage the brand and advantages of the Big Three.
BCCI is at the crossroads where leadership and vision could help it coast on the highway of success. Hopefully, those at the helm have it in them to lead the game out of crisis, rather than just manage it.
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