You could be forgiven for having the impression that this was going to be a breakout year for the IPL. Previous opinion on the tournament has tended to vary, as it does here at 51allout, between interest and complete disinterest, with a majority being completely ambivalent towards it and only paying attention when something truly interesting/hilarious occurs. This year though, following on the heels of a successful T20 World Cup (although that success largely came despite the efforts of the ICC and BCCI, not because of them) and with rather more Englishman plying their trade in it than before, the sense was that the IPL was on the up.
If that was indeed the case, this optimism probably didn’t last much beyond about the sixth over of the opening game, when Danny Morrison came on to commentate on a hilarious Mumbai Indians collapse at the hands of Mitch Marsh, of all people. As the Mumbai line-up unsuccessfully tried to smash its way out of trouble against what must be considered one of the weakest bowling line-ups in the tournament, and a LBW shout against Kieron Pollard was turned down despite the ball being clearly destined to wipe out middle, and most of the rest of the stumps to boot, the coin dropped. This was just the same IPL that we have seen many times before, no different, and certainly not in any way better than previous years. Actually, after watching the second game between Kolkata and Delhi, we have the suspicion it might actually be worse. One week now into the tournament, we can count the number of genuinely exciting games with one or two fingers. A bit like Jos himself, the IPL seems to deliver one really outstanding game every now and then, with a lot of highly forgettable dross in between.
This isn’t to argue that the IPL is necessarily bad, just that it’s pretty much the same as before. So if you didn’t like the IPL previously, with everything that comes with it (Ravi Shastri screaming, DLF Maximums, Danny Morrison, constant fawning over MS Dhoni), there is precious little different about it this time round. So whilst there may now be a wealth of newly won T20 adherents looking for something to scratch that itch, don’t think that the IPL will necessarily be the equivalent of the European Champions League, cause it really ain’t. It’s still an Indian domestic T20 tournament that happens to have a good number of quality international players kicking about it in.
While the BCCI are probably quite chuffed with the monster they have created (apart from those awkward corruption allegations that have proven increasingly difficult to just sweep under the carpet) the biggest problem with the IPL, insofar as we see it, is that it has no real competition, and therefore no real reason to innovate and improve. The Big Bash is great fun and we enjoy watching it more than we do the IPL, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the IPL in terms of either quality, hype or money. The IPL is leagues ahead of any other tournament out there, and for that reason it is still pretty much the same tournament it was a few years ago. Only some of the names of the teams are different, because of that pesky corruption stuff.
Our biggest gripe with the IPL is still the limit on four international players in a starting XI. What this means in practice is that a good number of quality players are benched in favour of sometimes pretty lacklustre home-grown talent. It also makes for hilariously over inflated auction prices for the likes of Yuvraj Singh. The argument, of course, is that limiting the number of overseas players allows local players to come through. What it does, though, is dilute the quality of the cricket. It’s not as if India doesn’t have another domestic T20 tournament for local players to play in either. Mumbai, for instance, have to choose between Corey Anderson and Kieron Pollard when both probably should, by rights, be making the first XI. Those sorts of compromises just tend to undervalue the appeal of the tournament to international viewers. There is likewise little chance that fringe players like Sam Billings will ever get much of a look in.
That’s not to say, though, that all the international players in the competition are deserving of their place. And that’s without mentioning Marcus Stoinis. How Mitchell Johnson is holding down a starting position with the Kings XI is beyond us and we suspect it might have a lot to do with publicity, rather than the shockingly awful rubbish he has sent down in the competition thus far. The same arguably goes for Glen Maxwell, who is currently in the midst of one of those frequent periods where he looks like the sort of player who has never even seen a game of cricket before, let alone participated in one.
Nevertheless, if the IPL’s position at the top of the pile were to ever come under any real threat, if a new cashed-up tournament started to attract the attention of the best players in the world (other than the Master’s Champions League of course…), we bet increasing the number of international players who could play in each game would be one of the first responses. Similarly they might look at how the tournament is presented. Danny Morrison is probably a big hit with local fans, but he just turns international audiences off in droves.
The BCCI probably couldn’t give a shit about the international market. Over a billion Indians is a decent sized audience on its own. And we certainly wouldn’t bother arguing how they could make the tournament more approachable for international fans, because, well, what’s the point? But what it does mean that if you are thinking now is the time to dip your toes into the morass that is the IPL? We would suggest caution. If you had never quite seen the appeal of the tournament in years past, certainly nothing has changed.
So if the T20 World Cup really did whet your appetite for the format, our suggestion would be to get out and support your local competition, whatever it is. Sure, it probably ain’t pretty (particularly for those poor sods reduced to watching the rain fall in the T20 Blast), and will lack the star studded appeal of the IPL, but maybe if enough people support local competitions, allowing them to flourish, the BCCI might in turn start feeling the heat and turn the IPL into a tournament that actually has real international appeal.