Big money league cricket is turning geography into history. Balaji Vittaltries to get his moorings
Only one half of the hoarding atop the Begumpet flyover made conventional sense. “Will Inzy’s Lahore demolish Craig McMillan’s Kolkata?” Further downtown it was Lara’s Mumbai versus another team. Brian Lara’s Mumbai? Craig McMillan’s Kolkata? Did Atlas toss up the globe last night?
Not really. Overseas players in Indian domestic league have been around since World War II – for football. e.g. Pagsley (Burmese), Masood Fakri, Moosa, Hassan (all Pakistanis), Majid Baskar, Jamshed Nassiri, (Iranians), Cheema Okeirie, Emeka Ezugo (Nigerians). Mostly for East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting Clubs, though.
Barring English county cricket which had its token share of players from other countries and avoidable aberrations like The Bombay Pentangular league between the Parsis, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs in the pre-Independence era, cricket matches in major circuits have been largely contested between teams representing various geographies – countries, counties, states, islands, provinces and of late, continents like the Asia XI vs. Africa XI.
Reasons? Tradition. Like the ‘Ashes’, for instance. Mercilessly kept alive. Stiff upper-lipped tradition that protects senility from unemployment. Other reason – war. Or rather proxy war. Fought at Gaddafi Stadium when not at Siachen. Sachin Tendulkar flies back to join his team in time for the clash against Pakistan even as his father’s funeral pyre smoulders. We won both the wars that year – at Kargil and at The Trent Bridge Oval.
So what do the post-modern leagues of IPL and ICL stand for? Simple. One team vs. another consisting of well-paid professional players working for professionally managed organisations. They would finish breakfast and go to work everyday. They have been assigned a project by their directors and they need to come up with a winning plan. Propelled by their cold passion for the task at hand. Their colleagues hail from different countries; they may have been in competing organisations earlier, but now they all share the same bubble elevators, mahogany boardroom and glass-panelled cafeteria.
This re-alignment notwithstanding, spectators would still segment themselves along geographical lines. In the same household there may be Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai die-hards. Just the way East Bengal and Mohun Bagan die-hards are split on which part of Bengal they hailed from – east or west.
Also, league cricket in India could also be just the answer frustrated global talent was looking for. A strife-torn Zimbabwe, a minefield that is Pakistan, a dithering Bangladesh Board, a slow but steadily declining West Indies…. Players need no longer become an unfair victim to geo-political currents. Cricketers, just like software professionals have a right to choose their careers anywhere on earth. Heath Streak can come out of hiding and the Flower brothers can bloom again.
Cricket can upgrade from being a six-nation mystery to 30 team major league show. A much missed world status that cricket always deserved but missed out by being locked up in the Commonwealth cupboard.