The old man’s game

Far from unearthing fresh talents, T20 competitions like the IPL seem to be nurturing over-the-hill veterans.

After a brush with the IPL in its first season, Ricky Ponting stayed away from it. National duty comes first, he had reasoned. In 2009 he was relieved from his contract. “Dropped from KKR” was how Lalit Modi put it on Twitter. In 2010, with a security threat clouding the IPL, Ponting told his team-mates not to tour India. The team-mates, who’d normally walk on hot coals for their captain, were said to have dissented. And why not? They stood to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars by taking his advice.

There’s water under the bridge now. Ponting has been axed from the Australian one-day squad. He has hung on to the Test side by a thread. Now that his cricket calendar has freed up to a degree, it was interesting to hear his most recent views on the IPL. He said:

“New Zealand just don't schedule any international cricket when the IPL’s on for the simple reason they would have lost most of their players to IPL and been left with next to nothing. I think there's something to be learned there.”

And just like that, the man who once urged Australia’s youth to put the Baggy Green above all else, is now hinting at creating a window for the IPL in the international calendar.

Ponting is 37. There’s nothing in his comments to suggest that he wants to play the IPL now. But it’s not surprising that he has made peace with the concept of players side-stepping national duty to earn tonnes of cash in T20 tournaments.

Ponting’s successor Michael Clarke, too had been immune to the IPL’s charms. But he will play for Pune Warriors this year. So don’t be surprised if Ponting returns to the IPL in 2013 since this has been the trend among players of his age and position.


If he does return, Ponting won’t be the only cricketer extending his career by dabbling in T20s. For at least three fine cricketers — Herschelle Gibbs, Chris Gayle and Andrew Symonds — being forced out of national duty turned out to be profitable. They plied their wares in T20 tournaments around the world and made fair money too. Thanks to them, the term “T20 freelancer” gained currency.

Symonds retired recently. Gibbs, 38, is still active on the T20 circuit. Gayle, at 32, has a longer way to go, but he is turning out to be the Bradman of the short format. His seven hundreds are the most by any T20 batsman.
There are more. Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Muttiah Muralitharan are all 39 and have retired from international cricket. So have the only two quadragenarians in the league, Adam Gilchrist and Brad Hogg. Hogg is a curious case. He had retired in 2008 but made a surprise comeback to the Australian T20 squad — aged 41 — after a fine showing in the Big Bash League. Clearly, it’s only for T20 cricket that these aforementioned gents are still carrying on. 

There’s also Lord Voldemort (He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-Since-He-Has-Touchy-Fans). Less than a month before his 39th birthday, he surrendered the captaincy of his team with these words: “At this point in time, I feel, I need a break from the responsibility of captaincy.”

"Break", according to the Oxford Dictionary, means a pause in work or during an activity or event. Is Lord Voldemort implying that he will end this break to become captain again next year?

Coming to Ganguly, he prepares for the IPL by playing the Ranji Trophy. He may be the only cricketer who uses his country’s premier four-day tournament for the sole purpose of staying fit, just as one would visit a gym to stay in shape. He does so to prepare for the IPL, and thus extend his playing days a little longer.

It makes economic sense. Who in his right mind would turn down a couple of crore rupees for eight weeks of hit-and-giggle? Heavens know if there’s a talented batsman waiting to break into the Bengal squad. Let’s hope that Dravid, renowned for doing The Right Things, doesn’t walk the same path. Gilchrist's methods are in complete contrast to Ganguly's: he hadn't played a single game since the last IPL.


So what’s wrong with oldies playing T20, you ask.

Lalit Modi, the man who created the IPL, said one of the use-cases of the league was to bring young players to the fore. He said in 2009:

“The young Indians are getting a platform. There is a requirement that a certain number of Indians must be a part of the team. They are getting the experience of playing with the world's best that they will normally not get in their entire lifetime. They can build on that and take it forward. There is a whole set of people that have said how IPL has uplifted the game.”

The IPL is now five years old. What does it say about the tournament when the only player to significantly gain from the IPL exposure is — gasp — Ravindra Jadeja? You could throw in some more names — Pragyan Ojha, Manpreet Gony, Abhishek Nayar — players who were fast-tracked to the Indian team. Gony and Nayar went off the radar long ago. And Ojha, four years since his India debut, can still not claim to be a certainty in the starting XI.

So here are the facts.

No Indian player of note has come up through the IPL in five years. Retired players use it to extend their playing days. The IPL’s TRPs have fallen. They're worse than last year. The ad rates have fallen. Games are being played before empty stands. And while diehards would claim otherwise, we know for a fact that people care more about international games: it shows in the traffic patterns of this website too.

Hence it becomes imperative to ask this: what does the IPL exists for? What is it trying to achieve and how long before it gets there? We’re unlikely to have the answers this season.

In the days gone by, we had exhibition tournaments and veteran leagues. These would bring together players in a way international cricket couldn’t — like Lara and Tendulkar batting for the same team; or Vivian Richards coming out of retirement to face Kapil Dev. These games provided entertainment, and also raised financial aid for veterans. Now, they are passé. But the IPL can perform both functions. Now only if it would do something about its misplaced sense of self-importance.

You can reach out to the author on Twitter with thoughts and feedback.


Related Content:

Lokendra Pratap Sahi interviews Sourav Ganguly about the pulls and pushes of the IPL:

"If you are asking whether I was under pressure, then the answer is yes. Having been around for so long, I can say with some authority that the pressure only goes away once you are through with the game, not otherwise."

The Secret Life of Indian Cricket, by Shantanu Guha Ray, February 2, 2012

In 2011, Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar, 38, earned Rs 9 crore each from playing the fourth edition of IPL for Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians respectively, while Gautam Gambhir, 30, who captained Kolkata Knight Riders, earned the highest last year, Rs 11 crore. This was almost five times the amount they would have earned from playing Tests, one-day internationals (ODI) and T20s in 2011. Top Indian players in Grade A get an annual retainership of Rs 1 crore and earn Rs 7 lakh per Test, Rs 4 lakh per odi and Rs 2 lakh per T20 match. In 2011, some cricketers played, on an average, 15 Tests and 30 odis, earning a maximum of Rs 2.25 crore in match fees.

In this new commercial culture of the game, there is little incentive for good players to raise their game and become members of the elite club, Team India. Take Yusuf Pathan, 29, who is yet to play a Test but earned Rs 10 crore by playing IPL for Kolkata Knight Riders in 2011. Or Robin Uthappa, 26, uncapped in Tests and who played his last odi game in 2008. He earned Rs 10 crore from Pune Warriors.

One Week Down, Seven To Go, by Kunal Diwan, April 11:

Imagine the amount of unwanted imagery the days remaining will generate. The tournament is tenuous, protracted and painful - the last especially if one's livelihood depends on it - and only those who have no direct stake in it are unmindful of its inordinate length.

These mostly comprise (and a fair bit of profiling is at work here) right-wing hardliners with tribalistic tendecies coursing through their veins - the flag-waving, chair-hurling kind who perpetually vacillate between extreme emotional states, the sainthood-for-winners-death-to-losers brigade.

Curtail The Summer Madness, by AR Hemant, April 7:

THIS YEAR, the IPL is down to nine teams. But the tournament will still be 55 days long and comprise 76 matches. The previous edition, with 10 teams, was three days shorter and had two games less. Now let’s put these numbers in context.

The 2007 World T20, a successful tournament by most counts, had 12 teams but only lasted 15 days. The London Olympics — an event of far greater scale — will be over in 17 days, as did the Beijing Games and the Athens Games before it. The Big Bash T20 League in Australia with eight teams lasted 44 days, out of which only 28 were match days. What’s so special about the IPL that it must run longer than the last three Summer Olympics combined?

Full Coverage: IPL 2012