Think about what the Indian Premier League (IPL) has accomplished in eight years. It has transformed the cricketing landscape in India and the world over. It has made cricket not just a viable career for hundreds of players, but a lucrative one. It’s inspired countless copycat leagues in sports ranging from badminton to kabaddi, giving the latter a nation-wide television audience that it never had before.
Oh, and it contributed roughly Rs 1,150 crore to the Indian economy in 2015, according to a study by KPMG on behalf of the BCCI.
Now think about what the IPL has experienced in eight years. Three teams have disappeared. Two more have been suspended for two years. The league had to be moved out of India twice. There have been innumerable court cases. An IPL chairman has been deposed and banned for life. A Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president was barred from standing for re-election. Spot-fixing and betting scandals have rocked it and threatened its very existence.
The IPL has been at once a transformative sporting event and a magnet for controversy, scandal, illegality and disrepute. And at the heart of this dichotomy lies the often bumbling BCCI, detailed in a new book, Not Out! The Incredible story of the Indian Premier League.
Written by sports lawyer Desh Gaurav Sekhri, Not Out! examines the league with a forensic eye, and while giving due credit for its successes, points out that it could have been so much more if not for the BCCI’s often poor management.
“The IPL was a victim to, and a product of, the BCCI’s complacency and belief that it was an invulnerable institution, one which could dictate the course of professional cricket for India and therefore the rest of the world,” he writes early on, leaving you no doubt as to where he stands.
“If one wonders why many of the processes and developments in the IPL transpired, the answer is simple — because the BCCI felt it could. If you wonder why the allotment of franchises was mired in secrecy, and the players were auctioned off like inanimate objects, again the answer is simple — because the board felt it could.”
Desh is not anti-IPL, as is the current fashion. It’s quite the opposite. He is a believer in the potential of the league and laments that it has been squandered by a board that either refuses to, or can’t, see the big picture.
“What is baffling is how easy it would have been for the IPL to make a real difference in expanding and developing grass-roots cricket in India above and beyond merely monetising it at the highest level. At no point was any effort made to centrally create a development league so as to farm and develop youngsters.”
The problem, as Desh sees it, is that the board took its eye off the ball, literally and metaphorically. “What the BCCI forgot to do was sell the sport,” Desh writes. “By selling and leveraging the sport of cricket, the BCCI would have grown the IPL, and the rest would have followed. But that didn’t happen, though it so easily could have.”
In hindsight though, this is not surprising. The board has always been a battleground for egos and control-freaks. The league added a heady mix of Bollywood, glamour and cold hard cash. The board’s officials, including those at state associations, were now mixing with movie stars and industrialists. It’s the sort of potent cocktail that was bound to turn heads in an organisation as parochially run as the BCCI.
Desh runs down the litany of troubles the IPL has faced and rightly cites the spot-fixing scandal that broke in 2013 as “the single most debilitating thing to happen to the BCCI-IPL”. That set in motion a sequence of events that led to the Supreme Court getting involved the Justice Lodha Committee that recommended a radical overhaul of the BCCI itself. Desh traces these steps in detail, showing just how the dominoes fell.
Desh also raises an interesting question — is the IPL a league or a tournament masquerading as a league? He points out that the 2015 IPL featured eight teams and lasted just 47 days. In comparison, the 2015 World Cup featured 14 teams and lasted 44 days.
Of course, the IPL isn’t the first league to face existential threats, nor will it be the last, which is why Desh still has hope that it can straighten up and fly right. “Despite everything, including the many criticisms of it and its owner/promoter — the board’s handling of it — the IPL’s future remains bright, and it controls its own destiny.”
Among his prescriptions are to privatise the IPL and let the franchises have a say in running it, as they are the ones taking all the risk. He also, intriguingly, suggests replacing the player auction, which has been a hit with fans, with a player draft, which is something the American sports leagues have in common. A draft, Desh explains, would be more efficient than an auction and would better fulfill the purpose of a level-playing field.
If you are looking for a book on the IPL filled with gossip and insider stories, this is not the book for you. But if you are looking for a book on the IPL that puts the league in clear perspective and lets you know what is, what it could have been and what it still could be, then this is the book for you.
Full disclosure: I have interviewed Desh Gaurav Sekhri on many occasions for stories dealing with the BCCI, the IPL and the many court cases involving both of them.
Updated Date: May 07, 2016 08:40 AM