While the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) understandably views the formation of the Indian Cricket League (ICL) as a disruptive development, its tough official stand is entirely in keeping with its reputation for thinking conventionally. The Board can ill afford an exodus at the domestic level where standards have suffered from ODI fixation and long-term neglect. Severely depleted State sides — Hyderabad and Bengal, for instance, have lost more than half a dozen cricketers — will compromise domestic cricket’s credibility further. Consequently, the Sharad Pawar administration felt the need for both prohibition and reward: hence the decisions to prevent those aligning with the ICL from “being part of BCCI activities or deriving any benefits from the BCCI,” and to increase the lucre of the domestic game. The sacking of Kapil Dev as chairman of the National Cricket Academy, although not unexpected, is unfortunate. Instead of venting its spleen on the rebels, the Board would do well to address the cause of the ICL’s success in weaning away close to 50 of its cricketers. More than one cricketer has spoken of being disillusioned with the system. Perceived shabby treatment precipitated the Packer divide in the late 1970s and, unsurprisingly, Kapil Dev is positioning the ICL as being run by cricketers for cricketers.
Another parallel with the Packer series is the genesis of the conflict. The Australian media mogul felt spurned by the Australian cricket administrators when he bid for international broadcast rights. The current Indian cricket administration has inherited the problem from its predecessor, which refused Zee’s offer, sowing the seeds of the ICL. Just how entertaining a spectacle a hodgepodge of honest practitioners and the odd international marquee name, playing for neither national pride nor historical legitimacy, can put on is open to question. Advertisers have expressed interest, noting that the ICL offers a less expensive option than international cricket, but ultimately, the quality of the product will dictate its revenue. Cricket is supposed to be an abiding passion in India but recent events have confirmed that only ODI cricket featuring Indian stars sells out stadiums. Will the ICL turn out to be more than a quirkish and short-lived adventure?