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IPL needs course corrections soon
Veturi Srivatsa
IPL needs course corrections soon
PHOTO : IPL 8 opening ceremony at Kolkata Eden Gardens

Is the Indian Premier League (IPL) facing an existential crisis as it enters the eighth year? The answer from its governing council will be a loud 'No', the franchises feebly joining in the chorus. Despite all its myriad problems and ongoing investigations, it will survive with course corrections.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), whose property the IPL is, will always be sitting pretty with its coffers overflowing, getting its share of broadcast rights and central sponsorship money, besides the franchise fee varying from owner-to-owner. The booty is good enough for it not to kill the goose.

The franchises get their share of TV rights too and they are in no danger of being exposed to any serious commercial risk. But then, they will have to pay players, organise so-called home matches by hiring stadia from local associations. They will also have to manage the nitty-gritty of making sure that the stadium got uninterrupted power and water during match days by greasing the palms of the officials. All this totes up to close to Rs.200 crores ($32 million) a year.

Most franchise owners have deep pockets. Not to worry about making big money, some of them made enough by regularly getting into the play-offs, semifinals, final and winning the title. Ask any franchise owner, he might put up a brave office to project his corporate status, but he has to go out and sell the branding opportunities available to him, T-shirts and logos.

Still, what must be a concern for both BCCI and franchises is what has happened to Hyderabad's Deccan Chargers, who quit failing to stabilise even after the first five seasons and winning the IPL in South Africa in 2009, or to Sahara Pune Warriors, who pulled out after two seasons, and to Kochi Tuskers Kerala, who were thrown out after just one edition for breaching contractual obligations. This has exposed the financial structure of the franchises and also the flaws in the bidding process.

After throwing Lalit Modi out, the board tried to put all the IPL ills at the door of the man who conceived the grandiose project and ran it as a corporate head for three years. But the officials who forced him out themselves faced more severe charges of corruption.

The Supreme Court had to intervene and pass strictures against the board’s functioning and the running of IPL. The recent turn of events at the BCCI elections and the subsequent composition of sub-committees point to a change of wind and new equations.

The IPL was launched in 2008 with the promise that the franchises would break even within three or four years. Though not many are really looking at huge profits, some of them are happy with the mileage their businesses get from the world’s richest league organised by the richest board.

Other countries also tried to replicate the idea. Australia’s Big Bash and the Caribbean Premier League caught the eye but they are like jam for players who rake in startling sums.

The biggest worry for the governing council of the league is the future of Sunrisers Hyderabad, who replaced Deccan Chargers, in view of the travails of its owners Sun TV after some of its properties were attached by the Enforcement Directorate in the Aircel-Maxis deal being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The franchise has been captained by Kumar Sangakkara, Cameron White, Shikhar Dhawan and Darren Sammy in the last seven years under two owners and David Warner is the new skipper.

There were no takers for someone like Sangakkara this year! The frequency at which the players are changing their loyalty makes it difficult to build brand value. It appears the film stars have better camp followers than players in the IPL.

Only last year’s finalists, Kings XI Punjab, sensibly retained more or less their entire squad as did champions Kolkata Knight Riders, only releasing Jacques Kallis to bring him back as mentor.

If Royal Challengers released Yuvraj Singh, they also grabbed Dinesh Karthik from Delhi Daredevils and Sammy from Hyderabad, who also surprisingly lost Aaron Finch to Mumbai Indians.

Even though the franchises hired coaches from overseas, Sanjay Bangar of Punjab being the lone exception, seven of the top-10 earners - Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Gautam Gambhir, Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina - are Indians. The three overseas stalwarts are Dale Steyn, David Miller and Chris Gayle.

Another heartening feature is that leg-spinners are in demand. Amit Mishra, Piyush Chawla, Imran Tahir, Karn Sharma and Rahul Sharma are retained despite some harsh treatment at the hands of the batsmen, paying some of them substantial salaries. A new face Konganda Charamanna Cariappa, 20, is added to the list of exciting bowlers by Kolkata.

Finally, Rahul Dravid yet again spoke up for keep tabs on nefarious IPL activities. He feels stricter laws can check malpractices, but what he does not seem to realise is law alone can do little unless implemented with a firm hand. Only players can catch their offending colleague just as some senior players informally complained to the board about the shady dealings of a couple of their teammates years ago.

Thus, the sooner the course corrections, the better it would be for the IPL.

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal.)

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