Tuesday, August 21, 2007

At the entrance or at the exit?

The first list of players contracted by the Indian Cricket League (ICL) makes for interesting reading. The half-dozen international players include two South African cricketers – Lance Klusener and Nicky Boje – whose international career seems over. The other four, Pakistanis all, seem to have been snubbed in some form or the other by the Pakistan Cricket Board – Inzamam-ul-Haq being denied a central contract; Mohammad Yousuf and Abdur Razzaq being dropped from the T20 squad; and Imran Farhat running foul of the selectors by questioning his omission from the squad earlier in May.

But the interesting part is the list of Indian players. Included in it are six international discards, none of whom has had any significant level of success at the apex level, and a whole set of youngsters who may or may not have made the grade for the senior team in the near future.

So how is the ICL recruitment strategy likely to pan out, assuming they don’t get legitimacy status from the ICC? Of course, right now they would just grab anyone they get. But in the long run, will they wait at the entrance gate of international cricket or at the exit gate?

If they end up at the entrance gate, it may end up putting a lot of pressure on many stakeholders. The players themselves will have to decide which side of the fence to sit on. The ICL will have to make judgment calls on who is worth hiring and who is not – their talent scouts will have to match up to those of the official cricket boards. (Going by past evidence, that should not be tough to match though.) The boards will have to hike up salaries to ensure the good talent does not go away. Is it similar to the public sector and private sector battles for talent that has long existed in India?

If the ICL ends up at the exit gate, it may just about ensure that the stars don’t overstay their welcome in the national teams. At the same time, those stars may be able to extend their financial playing career as well. It could also pave the way for more youngsters into the national squads. Except that this strategy may cost the ICL a bit more.

Irrespective of the strategy it adopts, is the ICL likely to succeed? Will the matches have the same intensity as the official inter-country battles? What kind of pride will the players have at stake? Or will it be the international equivalent of that celebrity team from the England (I forget the name)?

Will we spectators turn up to watch a motley crowd of hopefuls-who-have-given-up-hope, international discards and one-step-away-from-retirement superstars battle it out in unrecognized games and series? Well, we moved from whites on five days to colours over 100 overs and now to the tamasha of Twenty20. We are nothing if not flexible in our cricket mania.

Dinesh Mongia said this about the ICL

My clear thought is, as a cricketer I want to play cricket. I play club cricket in Chandigarh, in Madras I play in corporate tournaments, I play Ranji Trophy for Punjab, and league cricket in England. Here again I get a chance to play with youngsters who are good, and foreign players.
As spectators, we perhaps are not unlike Mongia in sentiment when it comes to cricket watching. Any time, any where.

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