The million-dollar question: will cricketers put a premium on lucre or on national pride?
As a depleted Indian cricket team, led by stand-in skipper Suresh Raina, plays in the West Indies, the absence of top Indian players, including Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, and the 11th hour withdrawal of original limited overs skipper for the tour, Gautam Gambhir, owing to an injury has come as a shock to fans.
Has the IPL cost the national team? This question has even provoked Sunil Gavaskar to pass a harsh judgment that players choosing clubs over national duty should not be considered for the Indian team.
Waiting to happen
The Club vs. Country controversy was waiting to happen in Indian cricket. The BCCI looked the other way when it pinched the players of other countries and national boards. Chris Gayle, the top run-getter in the Indian Premier League (IPL), was overlooked by the West Indies Board for the series against Pakistan. He then turned out for Royal Challengers Bangalore and he was overlooked again for the series against India.
Sri Lankan Lasith Malinga retired from Tests while continuing to play limited overs cricket, including the IPL. In fact, the Indian board forced its counterparts in Sri Lanka to reverse their decision to call back their players early for the England tour.
To have thought that such a situation would not arise was wishful thinking as the Gambhir episode revealed. He had to pull out because he was not fully aware of an injury and played crucial matches for Kolkata Knight Riders, raising the question of whether cricketers put premium on lucre than national pride.
This is one big fall out from the IPL. The BCCI was smart enough to turn the T-20 format into a huge money-making proposition so that it has become a major competitor to the traditional form of the game. It brought name and fame to young players like Manish Pandey and Ravinder Jadeja, and also breathed life into retired cricketers' careers like Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble.
The IPL is not going to fade away and other cricket playing nations are being tempted to replicate its success in their backyard. The premier league concept is bound to grow and further queer the pitch of the Club vs. Country debate.
Kapil Dev rightly observed that “we are living in different times”. To expect cricketers to shun million-dollar offers and stick to the national team is asking for the moon. The modern cricketer's career span is short, so they would love to explore all avenues in cricket, including IPL, and ensure that they have a solid monetary base for their twilight years. One solution is to create a window for the IPL in the hectic international calendar so that players are relatively free from the pressure of choosing between playing for the country or the club. But the BCCI, as long as it enjoys monopoly, will not be inclined to think this way. Also, the likely proliferation of the IPL format could make that option irrelevant. It is indeed a Catch-22 situation for both players and administrators.