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Now that the dust has settled and the Indian - world cricket fraternity has been forced to reconcile with the IPL, it is time to probe what this new hyper commercialized spectacle means for global cricket at large.

The first question that the IPL has raised is about the way it was kickstarted with the cricketers coming under the hammer.

Moralists and politicians the country over has been up in arms against the auction and there have been threats to raise the issue in Parliament. Sena supreme Bal Thackerey has gone on to castigate BCCI President Sharad Pawar for turning cricketers into commodities.

Gurudas Dasgupta of the Communist Party of India is on record saying the auction has sounded the death knell of the gentleman’s game. Perhaps the most aggressive has been respected media personality Vinod Mehta, Editor of Outlook.

Writes Mehta, “The spectacle of international stars and our own icons being "sold" was a nauseating ordeal. It was both vulgar and tasteless as hundreds of crores were thrown around in the name of jazzing up cricket…My anger is directed at the BCCI which conceived, organised and presided over this prime-time rape of the game. The men who run the BCCI, past and present, have much to answer for, but president Sharad Pawar and his cronies are especially culpable. They must explain how this terminal perversion of the game is in the best interests of cricket.”

Such arguments, while rooted in conventional morality, seem to have missed the point.

While striking a heartfelt emotional chord, the real issues have been missed. The moot question is not whether the auction is good or bad, for, as Mehta himself agrees, it was inevitable.

If cricket is to survive in this modern global village of the twenty-first century, it has to go down the commercial route.

Sportsmen, there’s little doubt, are gladiators who entertain and cricketers, it is time to accept, are no different. Had the players not been auctioned they would have been given away to the various franchise owners, hardly a better form of commodification.

Rather, of central importance are the questions on the possible impact of this commercialization.

Will the benefits of this monetization filter down to the grassroots as is being bandied around by the organizers? Will the average first class player benefit from IPL? Will the fans support a tournament of this nature and spend thousands to watch games in the oppressive April-May heat? Will the IPL survive the test of time and finally will the organizers recover the huge amounts spent?

For the benefits to filter down to the grassroots, the tournament has to benefit the state cricket associations hosting the games.

If the hosts are able to spread part of the booty to the clubs that are its affiliates and serve as the supply line for cricketers, the IPL can add significant value to improving domestic cricket.

Most of these clubs suffer for want of funds and can hardly afford proper cricket gear for its players. With IPL money, all of these problems can be solved in a whiff.

At the moment, however, the whole tournament appears like a Bollywood item number. At the center of it are the iconic franchise owners and cricket stars from the world over. The first class cricketers and players from the catchment areas are like the extras dancing around aimlessly with little or no attention on them.

Unless the first class player becomes the true focus, which appears unlikely, the IPL will remain a star studded jamboree with little impact on the grassroots. In fact, by making players richer than the others in an arbitrary fashion, it might well end up destroying the foundation of first class cricket.

For example when a Manoj Tiwari, the youngster from Bengal who is just a match old in India colours steps out onto the middle with the tag of crorepati player on him, the kind of pressure he will be under is unprecedented in the history of Indian sport. Also, when some of the other crorepatis like Yusuf Pathan return to play for their regional teams for the Ranji or Duleep Trophies, which might soon lose importance courtesy IPL, the reception they may get from their not so fortunate teammates is a matter of conjecture.

The other cardinal question, referred to above, is whether the cash rich league will generate the huge crowds necessary for the franchise owners to break even. While a definitive answer is impossible to provide at this stage, it can be suggested that the hype generated assures it of crowds at the initial stages of the tournament. At the same time for a city based competition to create sustained fan loyalty, star players should have played for host cities.

With Ishant Sharma turning up for Kolkata against Delhi, which boasts of Kolkata lad Manoj Tiwari in its ranks, fans may find it difficult to get themselves charged up.

Will Kolkata celebrate if Ishant bowls Manoj?

In fact, in this scenario, more than cricket, it will be the cricket-entertainment mix that will draw spectators to the grounds. Whether or not fans will want to be ‘entertained’ for forty-four days in the absence of a strong sense of “regionalism/cityism”, crucial to the currency of sport globally, will determine crowd presence in IPL games.

Finally, the core cricketing aspect of whether IPL will strengthen the edifice of Indian cricket is a non-starter. If anything, it will encourage players under-22 (four under 22 players will have to be part of every team) to slog or restrict from ball one and will train them into 20-20 specialists who can hardly ever aspire to win India Test matches or even fifty over contests. The experience of the young Indian batting line up down under is testimony to this argument.

While a Robin Uthappa is certainly a star in the shortest format of the game, that he still has miles to go to emerge as a Test player has been brought to light in Australia.

The same, sadly for India, applies for Yuvraj Singh. While he is back in form for the one day version, that he will have to sit out in the forthcoming Test series against South Africa is certain with seniors like Laxman or Ganguly continuing to do an excellent job for the country.

While the IPL is surely an exciting proposition, whether or not it will stand the test of time is a million dollar guess. Survival, in the long run, will depend on its relationship with cricket, the sport, and that’s where IPL appears to be on a sticky wicket. This is because batting on a difficult twenty-two yard strip isn’t the forte of either Shahrukh Khan or Preity Zinta or even a Vijay Mallya or Mukesh Ambani.
 
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