Despite the fact that India has long been one of the world’s most cricket mad countries, for a long period it lacked a domestic league which drew genuine international attention and star power. That all changed back in 2008 with the inauguration of the IPL T20, in which 8 franchises compete in a T20 (20 overs per side) league. T20 Cricket is faster, higher scoring and generally more appealing to TV audiences than full day events and the IPL has quickly become the world’s most commercially successful cricket league.
But both the scheduling of the IPL season and its format have drawn criticism from some cricket figures, who claim that it diminishes “purer” forms of the game; test and one day matches. You might argue that the “centre” of the cricketing world is moving from Lords Cricket Ground towards Delhi – but English cricket legend Sir Ian Botham is among many traditionalists who see the IPL as too powerful, too modern and too different.
The IPL is a far cry from English county cricket; where the main attraction is having a pint in the stands whilst gently applauding the genteel action. IPL matches have huge, raucous, crowds, dancers, shows and free prize giveaways – a thoroughly modern version of the beautiful game. However the IPL season has considerable overlap with international games; meaning that many top players have to make a choice between earning vast sums in the league or representing their country – which many fans (especially outside of India) resent.
What’s more the IPL is also battling some nasty demons in the fallout from a wide ranging spot fixing investigation in 2013. Five cricketers were arrested in India on charges of spot-fixing; deliberately manipulating in match events at the behest of crooked bookmakers. Although backing your favourite IPL team is completely legal for most of us India’s strict prohibition has allowed a huge underground market to develop – where there are few scruples about compromising the game for a quick profit.
Nonetheless IPL matches are bringing the game new attention and some desperately needed star power. Although Cricket has always prided itself as a gentleman’s game that doesn’t mean that all commercial considerations have to be completely ignored – as they often had been by the English. The IPL is bringing hundreds of millions of dollars to cricket boards, clubs and of course players through the vast amount of sponsorship it generates.
Cricket appears to be going through a crisis of conscience as it decides whether to seek new popularity with faster, snappier games and more bling; or stick to basics and lose out on revenue. Although not a perfect solution the IPL has given Cricket a big boost in popularity and replenished depleted coffers – so despite Sir Ian’s objections its likely to be around for a while!