How the Indian Premier League whirlwind hit the world of cricket for a six
A new US T20 league is coming out to bat in June – with some of the very wealthy Indian franchises involved.
The date 18 April 2008 is massively significant in cricket history. It’s the day New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum struck an unbeaten 158 off 73 deliveries for the then unknown Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in the first match of the newly formed Indian Premier League (IPL) against the Royal Challengers Bangalore at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.
“It changed my life,” recalled McCullum. “It was as if it was destined. Someone else could have opened for KKR. It happened to be me. Dada (Saurav Ganguly) also told me after the knock that my life wouldn’t be the same again. That’s when I realised I had done something special.”
Though the swashbuckling knock remains the second-highest individual score ever struck in the IPL, global cricket has changed completely since that day.
Now, 15 years on, the IPL dominates the global cricket schedule and the tentacles of its franchise owners stretch beyond Indian borders.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has benefited handsomely from the success of the IPL, both financially and in terms of greater power within the International Cricket Council (ICC).
The IPL now has a designated two-month window in the Future Tours Programme (FTP), the cricket calendar, ensuring no significant international cricket clashes with the tournament.
Each of the 10 franchises are required to give the BCCI 20% of their overall revenue (from all sources except ticket sales) as fees.
In 2022, Viacom-18, backed by Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani, won the battle for IPL streaming rights until 2027 – for $3.05-billion. Disney-owned Star India retained the broadcast contract for $3.02-billion. In other words, the IPL’s media rights have sold for about R110-billion.
According to BCCI secretary Jay Shah, this made the IPL the second most valuable sports league in the world, after the American National Football League (NFL), having surpassed the English Premier League (EPL), Major League Baseball (MLB), and National Basketball Association league (NBA).
Negotiations between Viacom-18 and SuperSport faltered before the start of this year’s edition of the tournament, but picked up again at the eleventh hour, when SuperSport secured rights to showcase the 15th edition of the tournament on African TV screens.
Tentacles spread across the world
Since its inception in 2008, a number of nations have attempted to replicate the IPL’s achievements, with varying degrees of success.
Australia launched the Big Bash League in 2011, Bangladesh the Bangladesh Premier League in 2012 and Pakistan the Pakistan Super League in 2015.
Meanwhile, England attempted to reinvent the wheel by launching The Hundred – a 100-ball cricket tournament – in 2021.
Other nations such as South Africa and, to a lesser extent, West Indies have gone a different route by tapping into the IPL’s ready-made marketing in their respective franchise tournaments.
In 2015, the Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel, a team from the Caribbean Premier League, were purchased by Red Chillies Entertainment, the parent company of IPL team KKR. They have since been known as the Trinbago Knight Riders.
This was the first time an IPL team had invested in a T20 cricket league outside of India.
In 2023, South Africa’s third attempt at a franchise T20 tournament brought about the SA20. All six franchises in the tournament were purchased by IPL owners from India.
During the inaugural SA20 in February, the International League T20 was launched, this year in the United Arab Emirates, with five of the six franchises also owned by IPL owners.
In June, Major League Cricket will be launched in the US, with the Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings, Delhi Capitals and KKR invested in the six franchises. South Africa’s Quinton de Kock and Anrich Nortje have signed for the Seattle Orcas and Washington Freedom, respectively.
Globetrotters make the big bucks
Financially, the IPL has provided its international stars with freedom and security – something only playing international cricket provided before its inception.
International cricket contracts span a year, whereas the IPL only lasts two months. So cricketers can play in multiple franchise tournaments around the world in a single year, and earn more than cricketers who came before them earned across their careers.
In many cases, the financial incentives of playing in the shortest format around the globe outweigh the prestige of representing one’s country.
This has made international cricket less appealing, in comparison, for incumbent cricketers – especially in the longer formats of the game.
The West Indies is a paradigm of a nation that does not have the financial strength to retain its best players and therefore loses them to franchise leagues.
Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Chris Gayle all spent the latter parts of their careers skipping across the world’s T20 competitions while their national Test side languished.
More recently for the Windies, Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran are star batters in the shortest format and generate a pretty penny for their exploits with the willow. However, they have failed to replicate any similar form in the longest format – probably because their game development prioritises big hitting and not the sound defence and patience required in a Test.
Meanwhile, 21-year-old England starlet Will Smeed has already decided to become a white-ball specialist by rejecting an all-format contract from his county, Somerset.
“The amount of time I was spending away in the winter meant I wasn’t giving myself a fair shot in the red-ball stuff when I came back,” the youngster told The Telegraph at the end of last year.
“And in an attempt to practise the red-ball stuff, I wasn’t training for white-ball in the summer. Finding a balance became difficult. I want to become the best white-ball player I can, and the sacrifice is playing red-ball cricket.
“In an ideal world I would still play everything. But, with the year’s schedule being so busy, to do everything is so hard, and especially doing everything at the top level, which is where I want to be.”
Despite the doom and gloom surrounding red-ball cricket, the longest format has recently found a place in the sun, too.
England have revolutionised the way Test cricket is played in the past year, with a thrilling, attacking batting and a strategy that brings about record run chases and dramatic finishes.
The man responsible? Brendon McCullum.
The man who launched the IPL into the stratosphere on Day One has incorporated concepts characteristically associated with T20 cricket into a format in dire need of financial security akin to the IPL. DM168
The most expensive players bought at IPL 2023 auction (excluding long-term contracted Indian players):
- Sam Curran to Punjab Kings — R41-million
- Cameron Green to Mumbai Indians — R39-million
- Ben Stokes to Chennai Super Kings — R36-million
- Nicholas Pooran to Lucknow Super Giants — R36-million
- Harry Brook to Sunrisers Hyderabad — R30-million
- Mayank Agarwal to Sunrisers Hyderabad — R18-million
- Shivam Mavi to Gujarat Titans — R13-million
- Jason Holder to Rajasthan Royals — R13-million
- Mukesh Kumar to Delhi Capitals — R12-million
- Heinrich Klaasen to Sunrisers Hyderabad — R12-million
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.