March 12, 2008
This piece appeared in Rediff.
A strange thing happened yesterday. The stands were fuller than before. The crowd was noisier. Why, after two days of cricket bereft of any emotional attachment – or ‘emotional connect’, as the organizers would probably call it – was there life in the stands? It’s because the people behind it, having done their research after the December series, went back to basics and came up with the answer to their problems: the Lahore Badshahs. If Pakistan couldn’t be got, the Badshahs would be Pakistan. It was a gimmick if there ever was one. But how the crowd responded.
These are confusing times for the cricket fan. He doesn’t really know who to root for. All sorts of teams vie for brand loyalty. And so, the organizers figured, if you don’t know who to cheer, we’ll give you somebody to boo. An administrative officer sidled up after a Lahore bowler was hit for four, and said, “This is what they hoped for. Parochialism. They wanted to get a Pakistan team for this reaction only.” Below, the crowd clapped and hooted.
Perhaps they will point to greater television ratings or a larger crowd than there has been so far. But the Lahore team’s induction is like a band aid for a headache. The crowd was almost united in its feelings for the Badshahs (do note that the crowd feels this strongly for no other team in this league). This has not gone unnoticed. Now the league’s organizers casually discuss the possibility of acquiring players and dividing them along national lines – Colombo, Melbourne, etc. That if the lines that separate us and them are clear once again, the league will grow. This thinking is a step back from what the league set out to do, and it tones down their objective. If we’ve got this right, they want to set up entire national teams, and pay them too? And they still insist that the ICC and BCCI have no reason to be bothered?
If all this seems arbitrary, it probably is. Insiders admit they don’t always understand how the organization functions. “Right or wrong,” one administrator said in response to a question about the league’s announcement when nothing had been finalized, “that’s the way the board functions.” Another official, insisting on anonymity, said, “How this goes depends on whether [they] stop talking and actually follow through with [their] plans. There’s no point in just talking big.”
Has any issue been of greater importance than that of identity? The ICL began as something innovative, and now, finding that they declared their plans in haste, are beginning to think that maybe international cricket is a good idea. The most outlandish idea heard today was that one major ICL aim is to put up a team that will play against Australia, South Africa, and anyone else. They are also open to teams being acquired by private buyers; this comes only weeks after Kapil Dev expressed his dismay at players being auctioned. This means that it’s okay for a cluster of players to be bought, but doing it individually somehow demeans them. At the same time, they plan an academy in Panchkula by May.
It seems, for one thing, that the ICL seeks redemption through validation by the ICC. On the other, they seek it but want to continue building a base of cricketers to rival the BCCI crop. “There are enough people who are not selected by the BCCI,” the official who mentioned parochialism said. “They can join us.” But here’s the thing: who, in his right mind, likes leftovers? And here’s another: what are you really trying to do?