JOHANNESBURG – The Indian Premier League is 11-years-old. It is now a thriving entity, a behemoth even, backed by a $2.5billion broadcast deal that is the envy of every cricket nation, the International Cricket Council and even some other sporting codes.
But has the IPL been good for the game?
It certainly has been for Indian cricket.
The game in that country, already popular, has broadened its reach and appeal in ways no one - including the bumptious Lalit Modi - could ever have imagined. It’s improved the quality of Indian cricketers too, the fielding being the most obvious indication of that.
The confidence with which India’s players approach the game is noticeable too as they have learnt lessons from the overseas stars dotted around the competition.
The IPL has given cricket the glamour associated with leagues in sports that have a much larger footprint than cricket. But that also leads to a problem.
Cricket does not have proper global presence in the way that football or basketball have... it’s a sport played seriously in about a dozen countries. The IPL is only interested in itself and making money for itself and growing the game beyond India is not something that it considers.
In fact expanding the IPL, including more teams, scheduling more matches and lengthening the tournament from eight weeks to five months is something that has been more seriously considered.
But it would benefit the IPL financially too if it aided cricket’s expansion into new territories.
The NBA for instance holds regular season matches in territories beyond America’s borders and engages in numerous other exercises to aid expansion - the NBA Africa Game in Johannesburg being one of those initiatives.
For now, the IPL doesn’t appear to see any benefit in looking beyond Indian borders.
Perhaps rightly, it looks at the ICC, and that organisation’s decision, to shrink the number of participating teams at next year’s World Cup and reckons why should it bother?
Various T20 leagues have sprung up around the world, in an attempt to mimic the IPL, with the ICC seemingly incapable of halting those processes. The effect on the international game will become clearer over the next few years, but at this point it’s not looking good.
Infamously of course South Africa doesn’t count itself among the countries to have established a T20 league. Instead South Africa’s players have to make do with starring roles in those other leagues be it the Caribbean, Pakistan, Bangladesh or even in England.
But it’s the IPL that reigns supreme, with the glamour, energy, colour and most importantly cash, that others simply can’t match.
In eleven years, through controversy over ownership, questionable business practices, illegal betting and spot fixing it has emerged as one of the big sports leagues in the world. It’s is very difficult to ignore.