Skimpy outfits, shiny suits, match-fixing, black money, stars in their prime, stars on the wane, conflicts of interest, interfering owners... the IPL has it all. Or does it? Viewership has plunged for the last two editions of the tournament and the financial viability of the Indian Premier League is increasingly being questioned. So, given that its days appear numbered, let’s not grapple with ethics and how the whole circus works (or doesn’t), let’s just enjoy it for what it is –pretty mindless, though thrilling, entertainment. By KEN BORLAND.
The Indian Premier League is a circus, a jamboree, a get-rich quick scheme and a money-laundering device according to some people, but it is also a gathering of top-class cricketers from the world over, a cacophony of entertainment and a two-month explosion of non-stop action.
Coming from South Africa (how many times a day do you hear a plaintive “only in Africa”?), we should understand that the IPL does things differently and just because the English don’t get it, it doesn’t mean we should turn our noses up at it either.
The best approach to the IPL is probably to just enjoy it for what it is – pretty mindless entertainment and a wonderful way for our marvellous cricketers to be financially rewarded – and not try to fathom how it all works, whether it is financially viable or whether good standards of corporate governance are being followed.
Because if you do probe beneath the garishly-coloured uniforms, skimpy cheerleader outfits and Shah Rukh Khan’s shiny suits, you are going to find controversies aplenty.
The IPL has tentacles that reach as high as the Indian government: When the Kochi Tuskers were dumped in 2011 for defaulting on payments to the governing body, it led to an Indian minister resigning from the cabinet because he had been using his influence improperly.
This year’s major controversy has been the banning of Sri Lankan players from Chennai, the home of the Super Kings, because the chief minister of Tamil Nadu has said she cannot guarantee their security in the wake of protests over the treatment of Tamils in the island just to the south of the mainland.
How a vote-seeking politician, pandering to populist interests, has been able to hold a multi-billion dollar international tournament to hostage has baffled many people. But then the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, who own the IPL, is Narayanaswami Srinivasan, whose cement company just happens to be based in Chennai and which owns the Super Kings.
The conflicts of interest are glaring, but that’s just how things operate in Indian cricket and the Super Kings are certainly not the only team to have stakeholders with interests in the administration as a whole.
Cricket South Africa have shown a tendency to believe this is how things can be run over here as well, but hopefully the public outrage that forced them to ditch former chief executive Gerald Majola, who was corrupted by the IPL millions, will keep the current board on the straight and narrow.
Although the IPL has attracted much more money than any other cricket tournament in the history of the game, there are strong indications that the current largesse is not financially sustainable.
The last two seasons have seen the lowest television viewership figures of the six years the event has been in existence, while the base price the new Hyderabad Sunrisers paid for the bankrupt Deccan Chargers was roughly half as much as the BCCI charged for the Pune and Kochi franchises in 2010.
And Venky Mysore, the chief executive of the Kolkata Knight Riders, admitted recently that, “Everybody has become conscious that player costs are going up and clearly it is not sustainable from a franchise point of view.”
Allegations of match-fixing and black money (unaccounted for) payments saw five players banned last year, but those in the know suggest there is much more malfeasance waiting to be uncovered.
In other embarrassments, Shah Rukh, the owner of the Knight Riders, was given a five-year ban from the Wankhede Stadium by the Mumbai Indians after he was involved in an unseemly altercation with security there last year, while Dale Steyn was threatened with a law suit by the Chargers for not fulfilling his contract, even though they no longer existed as a franchise!
This was also after Steyn, and Bangalore Royal Challengers star AB de Villiers, were both paid several months late by their franchises.
While Steyn and De Villiers are in the prime of their careers and obviously command top dollar, one of the charms of the IPL is that it allows international stars to keep entertaining their fans late in their careers.
Instead of sitting in their rocking chairs, the likes of Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting and Brett Lee are still out there performing for two months a year.
It was Lee who began IPL 6 on the perfect note by bowling India U19 star Unmukt Chand with a cracking first ball of the tournament; and was then clobbered for four by Mahela Jayawardene off the second delivery.
And who cannot be thrilled with the sight of Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar opening the batting together for the Mumbai Indians?
There are 76 matches in all, so there will no doubt be many more oohs and aahs to come.
South Africa is well-represented by Albie Morkel, Chris Morris and Faf du Plessis at the Chennai Super Kings; Johan Botha, Morné Morkel and Roelof van der Merwe at the Delhi Daredevils; David Miller (Punjab Kings XI), Jacques Kallis and Ryan McLaren at KKR, Wayne Parnell (Pune Warriors), De Villiers with the Royal Challengers and Steyn, JP Duminy and Quinton de Kock with rookies Hyderabad Sunrisers.
The Delhi Daredevils and Bangalore Royal Challengers, both consistent challengers for the title, are coached by South Africans in Eric Simons and Ray Jennings respectively, while Allan Donald is Pune’s bowling coach.
Interference by team owners – one coach famously had to field a player who could hardly walk – is a hardship they have to put up with. But if the dollars they are earning don’t compensate sufficiently, then they can always take a cue from the rest of us and just realise that it’s two months of cricket that doesn’t really mean a whole lot.
It’s more about entertainment than sporting excellence, and we can be thrilled by that too. DM
Photo: Dwayne Bravo (L) of the Mumbai Indians collides with Brett Lee of the Kings Punjab during the 2009 Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 cricket tournament in Centurion in this May 12, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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