Its been almost two weeks since the Indian Premier League(IPL) got up and running with an awesome opening ceremony in Bangalore followed by an even more breathtaking century by the Kiwi-Brendon McCullum in the opening match. There is no questioning the stupendous success of the IPL and we have seen crowds take to the gorunds in their thousands even in the oppressive Indian summer heat. Amid these scenes, one thing is for certain: The game of cricket has changed forever. But, has it changed for the better or the worse? That is for us to analyse.
One of the notable differences between the EPL(English Premier League) and the IPL is that EPL did not change the way football is played. Since the time, football was introduced, it has been played over 90 minutes with a break of 45-minutes and the only aim is to put the ball into the opposition goal and prevent a ball being sent into your own goal. Cricket is essentially, a game between the bat and ball and demands equal importance to the batsman as well as the bowler. But, with the introduction of T20 cricket and IPL, the bowlers have been reduced as a side show. Its the batsman who is expected to hit sixes after sixes, and bowlers are just expected to run up and send down lollipops. This has led to uneven contests between bat and ball. One argument is that, there are some good bowlers who end up picking up wickets. The word GOOD needs to be underlined here as in T20, lots of great and good bowlers pick up wickets but one cannot deny the fact that lots of ordinary batsmen end up scoring runs by the ton as well.
We have also heard that in T20 cricket, the bowlers have a better chance of picking up wickets as the batsmen are looking to hammer each and every ball out of the park and are in turn taking a lot of risks which they would not have taken in a Test Match. While, this argument has logic, there are some other aspects which need consideration here. For example, the pitch. If the pitch is one which is tailor-made for batsmen, and an absolute featherbed, with nothing in for the bowler, the chances for a bowler taking a wicket off a good ball are few and in the same way, the chances of a batsman hitting a great ball for a six are also good. Another aspect is the boundary line. We have seen the boundary lines in cricket decreasing at an alarming rate of late, once again, courtesy, 20-over cricket because of which even rank mishits are carrying for sixes. So, here we have a situation that a bowler completely deceives a batsmen and ends up giving away six runs. Also, in this scenario, the spinner's role is going to be very negligent as he will not be able to flight the ball and thus, his role is relegated to just a run-restricting one and not an attacking one. If some of these aspects are given some thought by the administrators, we could see some even contests between bat and ball. The recent match between the Knightriders and the Chargers is a case in point. It was a minefield of a pitch at Eden Gardens where the bowlers enjoyed themselves and that match ended up being a thriller.
Some have mentioned that all forms of the game(Test Match, ODI, T20) will co-exist but I have my reservations about this. One of the examples is the Test Series, immediately preceding the IPL, between South Africa and India. For anyone who witnessed the series closely, there was no doubt that most of the Indian players were looking to preserve themselves for the IPL rather than play test matches. The way we lost the 2nd test match at Ahmedabad, proves this point. There was no committment from any of the players as India was bowled out for less than a 100 on a good pitch. The players sometimes cannot be faulted. After all, IPL is paying them 10-20 times more than what a test match pays, that too for 3 hours of madness!! So what, if you are representing the nation when playing a test match? Cricket is one of the very few sports where even though you play for the national team, you earn millions of dollars a year. No other sport pays so much when playing for the nation. Its when, you represent the club or franchisee, that the other sports pay.
Overall, IPL has,literally changed the face of world cricket. Franchisee cricket could be the order of the day in years to come. But, with the cricket calendar, jam-packed as it is now, we need to really look at creating a separate window for IPL which would ensure that all the contracted foreign players are able to turn up for the entire duration of the tournament.