Many believe the IPL to be a nothing but ‘hit and giggle cricket’—it is cash rich, fast, colorful and entertaining. Yet, not really cricket. Players with a specific skill set rule the roost while the sponsors and franchisees make hay while the sun shines. The audience too seems to revel in its larger than life persona. Reason enough for the purists to look the other way. But is it really that flimsy? The league, now in its fifth edition, deserves a closer look.
As incredible as it sounds, an IPL season is make-or-break for a lot of cricketers. I’m not talking about the million dollar babies of the IPL, but the Robin Bist and Parvinder Awana’s of India’s domestic cricket, who’ve done ever so well in the previous Ranji season. The IPL is their big ticket to stardom.
If one really wants to know the importance of the IPL in a domestic cricketer’s life, you’d do well by being a fly on the wall of a state team’s dressing room for an entire season. While the world, quite naively blames the IPL for every sin, the young cricketer in India will give his right arm to be a part of this annual event. It’s only just for him to be so enthusiastic, for a cricketer, like any other artist, wants to showcase his wares in front of an audience. Since there are no takers for domestic cricket, these players always play to empty stands and the IPL gives them the opportunity to emerge out of oblivion.
In the pre-IPL era, the only way to break into the Indian team was to do well in the domestic circuit. It goes without saying that it takes a lot to finish amongst the top 3 performers in a season drawn over 5 months. Since the inception of the IPL though, the selectors have started rewarding the IPL performers immediately with the India cap. This fact is not lost on first-class cricketers. Now, whether that is in itself a wise move by the wise men, is subject to debate.
The best part about performing in the IPL is that one doesn’t even have to finish with a purple or an orange cap (that’s reserved for the marquee players). Just impressive performances over 7 weeks does the job.
Therefore, it’s quite natural for domestic cricketers to treat the IPL at par with the first-class cricket, if not higher sometimes.
While everyone expects cricketers to play for the love of the game, it’s unfair to assume that they would continue without getting reasonably paid, especially in today’s day and age when the jobs have completely dried up. For most first-class cricketers making money by playing cricket is their only source of income and even though first-class cricket has become lucrative, it still isn’t a patch on the IPL riches. With the knowledge that one injury or a bad patch can abruptly finish a career, a couple of seasons in the IPL provide that much needed financial security for the future.
Perhaps, it’s sensible to call the IPL the dark cloud hovering over Indian cricket, with of course that silver lining.