IPL, the Gold Standard Among Cricket Leagues in the World

Ten years since its debut, the IPL remains Indian cricket’s strongest, most robust brand.

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Cricket
4 min read
Why did the Ravichandran Ashwin, who was dropped from India’s ODI team, turn up for Tamil Nadu in the Vijay Hazare trophy and bowl leg breaks?
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Why did the Ravichandran Ashwin, who was dropped from India’s ODI team, turn up for Tamil Nadu in the Vijay Hazare trophy and bowl leg breaks? Perhaps it could be his desire to improve, enhance his skills and develop more variations in bowling. Maybe.

However, it’s more likely to be due to the pressure of innovating himself to stay relevant. Off-spin is in low demand in limited-overs cricket, almost unnecessary in the T20 format, which is why the Indian Premier League (IPL) poses a bigger challenge. Ashwin has had to move from Chennai Super Kings and for him to change his craft so dramatically is an indication of the huge impact IPL has had on cricket. Bowlers, especially spinners, have to reinvent themselves and learn new tricks.

In the 10 years since its inception, IPL had transformed cricket’s landscape and its ecosystem. The league has grown – attracting a larger pool of fans and capturing high TV ratings, which is why broadcaster Star pays crazy money to air matches, and so does Vivo for the title rights.

The Gold Standard

The IPL is the gold standard of cricket leagues in the world, a benchmark for others to follow. The player purse of INR 80 crore available to one IPL team, exceeds the entire player cost of the Australia’s Big Bash League, West Indies’ Caribbean Premier League or anywhere else. Proof, if any is required, of IPL's market leader position is confirmed by the following facts:

1,112 players registered for the IPL 2018 auction and eight franchise teams collectively spent more than Rs 600 crore to build their squads.

It’s no surprise, then, that world cricket comes to a standstill between April-May to accommodate the IPL, and the tournament is given an unofficial 'window' that allows top international cricketers to participate.

Of course, the IPL helps the process by awarding foreign boards 20% of every player contract as 'release money'. This sweetener is a neat arrangement, an all round win-win: IPL gets players, players get money and the foreign boards get money for every player picked in the IPL!

IPL’s Impact on Cricket

While the IPL put India on the world map, let’s look at the league's impact on cricket, and assess its impact on different stakeholders:

The IPL changed cricket fundamentally by disturbing the balance between bat and ball. Initially, bowlers were slaughtered as fearless batsmen swung their heavy bats to clobber the ball and sent it soaring over short boundaries. Secure in the sense they had wickets in hand (just 20 overs to play) and a bowler could only bowl 4, it was a batsman's game. With innovative strokes (lap shots, switch hits, reverse sweeps) strike rates climbed up, 60 in the last 5 and an overall 200 became achievable. Chris Gayle scored a 30-ball hundred!

But the bat/ball contest soon became fascinating as bowlers hit back by learning new tricks and posing new questions. As part of this examination, spinners opened the bowling (despite severe field restrictions), and fast bowlers discovered yorkers and slow bouncers. Bowling strategy was rebooted and in this evolution, leg-spinners became wicket-taking options. Due to this, Sunil Narine, Rashid Khan, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have now become no less valuable than star batsmen.

The IPL changed the way batsmen and bowlers played cricket, and forever altered the mindset of cricketers. Today, at least in India, every youngster dreams about bagging an IPL contract, while Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy and Test cricket are lower priority. Like others, aspiring cricketers in an aspirational India want fame, money and a better life for themselves. For them, the IPL is a passport to a world of big contracts, media attention and the company of celebrities.

As much game-changer, IPL is also a life-changer.

Rajasthan’s Under-19 quick Kamlesh Nagarkoti, yet to play Ranji, is worth Rs 3.2 crore – which is more than what Mohammad Shami, after 100 Test wickets, gets or what Virat Kohli receives as an annual retainer from the BCCI.

No wonder cricketers across India are getting fit, working out in the gym and training hard. Ravi Shastri got it right when he observed that the IPL was the best physio in the world!

The changed mindset and a robust work ethic has improved the quality of India's domestic cricket. With players more athletic than earlier, fielding standards are better, so is general match-awareness and strategic understanding. Knowledge gained by rubbing shoulders with top world stars is priceless and dressing-room wisdom filters down to Ranji teams. Present first-class players are global in their thinking, tuned in to the latest in the world, technically and mentally 'ready' to step up when required.

A Boon for Test Cricket Too?

The IPL has refined player payments, not just in India but worldwide. What Ben Stokes, Glenn Maxwell, Rashid Khan, AB de Villiers get in India is many times their worth in their home countries. The IPL has rewritten cricket's every commercial record – all 8 franchise teams are now commercially profitable and the BCCI is Kuber, sitting atop a mountain of wealth.

Test cricket is threatened by shorter formats but interestingly, the IPL will help 5-day cricket survive.

In what economists would call ‘cross subsidy’, profits from the IPL are being used to promote and protect traditional cricket.

Test cricket is also benefitting from IPL-type leagues in another indirect manner. With players playing aggressive cricket, Tests produce more results and run-rates have picked up – all of which makes the longer format of the game more spectator-friendly.

Ten years since its start, the IPL remains Indian cricket's strongest, most robust brand. Some feared it would lose its appeal but the IPL disproved such pessimistic observations. The IPL enjoys massive support, matches are sold out and so far, there is little evidence of spectator or sponsor fatigue.

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