Will T20 league be the eye-opener Mumbai cricket needs? Here are some points to ponder

Twenty20 cricket is the modern day tamasha.

Get a few teams together. Include a couple of big-hitters in each of them; get some big-hearted bowlers who don’t mind being thrashed around and a bunch of fielders who can do the double-twist somersault on grassy outfields. Include some glamour, pour in a little money as incentive, and play matches in coloured clothing — the gaudier the better — and under floodlights, if possible. Finally, get a television channel — looking for work — to telecast the matches live. For the uninitiated: crowds come in because of TV coverage and TV channels come in because there are crowds. Now, sort out that chicken-and-egg story for yourself!

The Indian Premier League (IPL) became a billion-dollar baby making use of this recipe. The same potion was used by the event managers of the T20 Mumbai League recently, albeit in a much smaller denomination.

Mumbaikars — or cricketkars, as Sachin Tendulkar would have us believe — have gone gaga over the ‘circus’ that played out last week. Former stars, players, commentators, sportswriters and the cognoscenti have sung praises over the fare dished out by the city franchises. And what better way to make the plot more exciting than to have the last ball of the tournament decide the winner?

Mumbai’s cricket enamours me. Having played a bit of the game and having mentored players at various levels for the city, for many years, I have a few questions, with regard to the T20 extravaganza, for Mumbai’s cricketing pundits. And, as always, I don’t expect answers.

Will the T20 Mumbai League help the city's cricket scene produce the next Tendulkar or Rohit Sharma? Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

Will the T20 Mumbai League help the city's cricket scene produce the next Tendulkar or Rohit Sharma? Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

So here goes:

Will the T20 Mumbai League help the city produce the next Tendulkar or Rohit Sharma?

There was a time when more than half the Indian side used to consist of Mumbai players. Other states have now caught up and understandably, there is tough competition for a place in
the Indian squad — Tests or the white ball variety. The moot point here is whether the city is missing out on the process that once churned out quality players by the dozen?

Does the ‘Cricket Improvement Committee’ of Mumbai therefore even discuss this aspect of the city’s cricket? Is the T20 Mumbai League their answer to Mumbai’s ills or is it just another platform to find talent for IPL and to cash in on the popularity of T20 cricket?

Only time will tell.

Is the Ranji Trophy a priority for Mumbai at all?

Mumbai won the Ranji Trophy for the 41 st time in 2015-16. They annexed the coveted cup on four other occasions in the new millennium, the last being in 2012-13. In 2016-17 and 2017-18
the team came close to winning but was found wanting when it mattered most.

In a brief interview during the recent T20 Mumbai League final, league commissioner and legendary opener, Sunil Gavaskar said, “Mumbai has dominated the Ranji Trophy championships for many years. I hope the T20 league will help Mumbai become the best T20 side in India.”

Have the city’s priorities changed? Do the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy carry more prestige now than the Ranji Trophy?

Mumbai’s cricket aficionados surely need to introspect a lot.

Were Mumbai’s senior and junior selectors involved in short-listing players for the T20 Mumbai League auction?

If Mumbai has to profit from the T20 League, then it is necessary that the best 120 cricketers in the city are available and are put up for ‘sale’ at the auction. It is therefore mandatory that the selectors, who are responsible for monitoring talent in the city, vet this list.

If all the probables of the Mumbai Ranji squad — and the Under-23 and Under-19 squads — of 2017-18 don’t make it to the auction list, unless unavailable for whatever reason, there has to be something wrong in Mumbai’s cricket setup.

Under no circumstances can the city’s premier T20 league be made use of to provide a back-door entry to players who aren’t good enough! Experienced players like Suryakumar Yadav, Bravish Shetty and a few others had to carry a heavy burden this T20 season. The difference in class among players, in every team, was clearly visible. And the joke of the tournament was the picking
of an Under-19 selector, as a player, by one of the franchises!

In a city where 46-year-old leggie Parvin Tambe is still the best spinner tells you a lot about the bowling talent available here. And despite watching Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar using the back-of- the hand delivery, the knuckle-ball and the slow bouncer to good effect in T20 internationals, these variations were hardly seen in the T20 Mumbai League.

Were the best coaches/mentors in the city made available to the franchises? If so, how were teams allotted to them?

Owners of the various franchises were at best well wishers of Mumbai cricket. They would neither know most coaches, nor would they have followed the careers of a majority of the players on the auction list. It therefore follows that coaches/mentors of each of the franchises were solely responsible for picking players.

The franchise owners would, of course, have a few ‘recommendations’ of their own, which the coaches/mentors, in their position as ‘employees’ could not refuse. The Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), therefore, by not vetting the list of players on ‘sale’ would have done Mumbai’s cricket a fair bit of disservice. The onus of maintaining high integrity levels among coaches and mentors lies with the MCA. They can’t be made subservient to the franchise owners. The parent body has to ensure that a place in the T20 Mumbai League can’t be ‘bought’.

In Mumbai’s most prestigious cricket event, where were the top industrialists from India’s commercial capital?

Not too long ago, Mumbai’s top cricket teams were owned by the Tatas, the Mahindras, the Mafatlals and ACC, besides public sector companies like Air India, Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum, Rashtriya Chemicals & Fertilisers etc. The railways and banks too had great teams. Were any of these corporates, or some of the top new companies, approached for franchise ownerships?

All credit to the builders who bid for the franchises, and I do not intend to dispute, even for a moment, the value that they have brought to the league; this at a time when the Mumbai realty market is in a slump. But I, as a traditionalist, would have loved to see the franchises owned by top corporate houses. That, perhaps, would also have opened up employment opportunities for players.

Why was the T20 Mumbai League played at a single venue?

The six teams that made up the T20 league were: 1. Mumbai North 2. Mumbai North West 3. Mumbai North East 4. Mumbai North Central 5. Mumbai South Central, and, 6. Mumbai South.
Each of these teams could easily have adopted a ground, in their own area, for practice and for playing ‘home’ matches.

Besides Wankhede Stadium — as home ground for Mumbai South, five other grounds could have been found, allowing the teams to build up their own fan-following. What’s more, this could have led to better infrastructure for cricket in the coming years. Logistical problems faced by the television channel could have been dealt with, with better planning.

The qualifier and the final could then have been played at Wankhede Stadium, under floodlights.

All said and done, the T20 Mumbai League has come like a breath of fresh air to a city that loves its cricket. The involvement of Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Tendulkar and other stalwarts in the league will only make things better for the game. It is therefore hoped, as a follow up, that the new committee of the Mumbai Cricket Association will consist of professionally qualified and knowledgeable cricketers.

It is also hoped that the new committee will be vigilant about match-fixing and other rip-offs that are now a part of the game, especially with the coming of the T20 League.

Better administrators, better infrastructure, better coaching schemes and a better application of the mind; these could be the magic words that will bring back Mumbai’s glory days in cricket.

The T20 Mumbai League has indeed been an eye-opener and I hope Mumbai learns a lesson from it!

The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he is now a sought-after mental toughness trainer

Updated Date: March 24, 2018 14:59:22 IST

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