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An opportune time for IPL to re-invent the wheel

Tightening the schedule and opening the doors to Pakistani players could help propel the tournament forward

Gulf News

It seems like the other day when some of India’s rich and famous walked into the portals of the Indian cricket board for the teams’ auction of a city-based, T20 league in the offing. Cut to 2017, and we are just two matches away from what would be curtains on the first decade of the game-changer called Indian Premier League.

Personally speaking, I had never been a big fan of the IPL, but there’s no gainsaying that the history of Indian cricket will now be written in two phases — one before and after the IPL. If part of the appeal of the cash-rich league, or ‘cric-entertainment’ if you like, lay in the high voltage action down the years, the other part lay in the astute marketing of the product by some of the most creative brains of the country.

The brand recall of the product, despite the fall in TRPs in some years, has been so strong that Bollywood now shies away from pitching a big release during the seven weeks that the IPL is held. A ‘withdrawal symptom’ grips India once the tournament is over — as we start almost missing this three and-a-half hour package of often riveting action, mindless holler of some of the middle-aged commentators and the ubiquitous cheerleaders.

At the turn of the decade, the question that comes to my mind though is: is it actually time for the IPL to reinvent itself? No, I am not talking about some of the changes waiting to happen — like the re-entry of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, renewal of licenses for the old franchises, media rights etc with an exponential increase in fees etc.

It’s really the time and the opportune moment for the Indian cricket board (should they be able to set their house in order in the meantime), to bring a structural change in the IPL. If the words of its chairman Rajeev Shukla are anything to go by, they would be pragmatic enough to restrict it to a eight-team affair as the total of 60 matches — spread over a period of nearly two months — has already become a repetitive exercise in recent years.

When the IPL first arrived in 2008, the cricketing universe was still a different place — the T20 format was just about finding its feet after the inaugural World T20. The Big Bash in Australia was the only remote competitor to the IPL and more importantly, the larger-than-life characters like the ‘Fab Four’ of India, besides Ponting, Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist or a Jayasuriya were still ruling our consciousness.

It’s going to be a far different scenario in 2018 with the staple diet of the shortest format that one is fed with — a World Cup every two years, an IPL clone in virtually all cricket playing countries and certainly a shrinking breed of superstars in the sport.

All these factors certainly call for a re-look at the concept of IPL as it is. Is there any way of tightening the schedule? Open the doors to Pakistan players to bring in a whiff of fresh air, what with Australia threatening to spoil the party?

Difficult questions these, but certainly worth pondering as the IPL is set to turn a new leaf!