The first big bang domestic T20 league to pop-up was the Indian Premier League, which was founded — in rather shambalic circumstances — in 2007, with its first season in 2008. It attracted the best players in the world — to the chagrin of many — to play swashbuckling cricket under floodlights with pop music and cheerleaders. And it has been wildly successful, both in India and around the world. It’s the most attended cricket league anywhere, it’s brand value is 6.3 billion US dollars, and it was the first sports league to be broadcast live on YouTube. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no doubting its success. It’s so successful that most other cricket shuts down completely for the two month tournament, not even bothering to compete with what has become, to many, the future of cricket: glittering domestic T20 leagues with teams filled with mercenaries. It’s a doomsday scenario for many, but that’s where we are.
I am not sure who will carry this year’s IPL in the USA, but someone will. I suggest tuning in. Pick a team, follow along. It’s really something. Not my cup of tea, but no matter who you are, you can see the entertainment value.
The league has been so successful, that it has of course spawned similar leagues, hence the doomsday future above. Australia, England and the Caribbean all have formed domestic T20 leagues that attract international stars. The matches get TV contracts and people in the seats, padding the coffers — and lining the pockets — of long suffering national boards.
Included in that pot of new leagues is the Bangladeshi Premier League (BPL) which just wrapped up its season. Cricinfo has a little write up on the league: what worked, what didn’t. The pitches are problematic for exciting cricket, but the fact that it doesn’t have budget restraints on the teams — while the Australian league (the Big Bash League, or BBL) which runs parallel to it, does — means it will, over time, attract the biggest T20 stars in World Cricket. It will never compete with the IPL, because players can play in both, but sooner or later Cricket Australia will probably either need to move their tournament on the calendar, or watch their league slowly wilt under the bright lights of the BPL. My guess is that they will move it. So from December through May, it will be three back to back to back T20 domestic leagues featuring the same players — more or less — wearing different uniforms, playing in different countries. Then there will be a small window for international cricket or a World Cup or a domestic league like Shield Cricket in Australia or the English Championship (leagues that don’t attract international attention or player) just in time for England’s T20 Blast tournament to kickoff in London.
And red ball cricket will slowly be left in the dustbin.
Again, doomsday scenario, and I waffle back and forth on whether it will actually come to pass, but it’s looking more and more likely. Who would thought have that when it first started that the BPL would attract starts like AB de Villiers, Steven Smith, David Warner and Chris Gayle? Not me. Yet here we are.
This is a blog post meant for Americans. And so the Test loving cricket fan in me wants to dissuade newbies to the game from watching these tournaments. But I have to admit their entertainment value, and their value as a big toe in the water for fans new to the game. And that’s what I hope they are, and what they continue to be: a gateway drug of sorts for the longer formats. A way for boards to make a little money which they can then invest in first class infrastructure.
The former might happen, but the latter never will, and already isn’t, which then in turn makes the former a moot point. And the new fans it does attract appear to be ignoring the longer formats, which is maybe because the quality has gone down because boards aren’t interested in investing in it. It’s a feedback loop that has no end, until the bells ring at Test cricket’s funeral, of course.
Sorry for the doom and gloom this fine morning. American fans: watch the IPL. It really is something. And then settle down in the summer with me and watch the Ashes, because that is cricket, while the IPL is just cricket’s preface. Neither will disappoint, and both will keep you coming back for more. Just don’t let the bright lights of the IPL blind you to what cricket really is all about: toss a coin, play cricket for five days.