Not much seems to have gone right for the Indian Cricket League since the idea was floated. Firstly it was announced that the ICL players wouldn’t be allowed to play first class cricket, which meant that they weren’t really able to attract good players. Then, there was the problem with the grounds, with state associations refusing to let their grounds out for ICL use. Then, some players who had signed backed out (Yousuf, LR Shukla) and went back to their host associations. Then there was the problem with the timing of the tournament given the Indian national team’s hectic schedule. And last but not the least, really badly designed uniforms.
Finally, a good eight months after the concept was floated, the ICL teams have been announced. And for a change, something seems to be going right for Subhash Chandra and his team. It looks like there has been some method to the madness by which players got recruited. When players started signing up for the ICL left right and center, it seemed as though they were poaching any tom, dick and harry. Now, it looks like there was some kind of system to the poaching. Has to do something with the geography.
The main thing that the ICL has done right is to have concentrated on a few ranji teams and poached wholesale from them. If you managed to read cricinfo’s preview of the current Ranji season, where they profiled each team, a state was either unaffected by the ICL or heavily affected. By poaching wholesale from one state team, what the ICL has managed is to have a geographically identified core group around which a team could be built.
Teams like Kolkota Tigers and Hyderabad Heroes have had it easy, given the number of guys from Bengal and Hyderabad and Andhra who switched over into the ICL. And these guys have formed the core of these teams. Similarly, the Madras and Chandigarh team have benefited from “mass migration”. Yes, the Delhi and Mumbai teams look fairly motley? – but that has been mainly because they haven’t been drawn mainly from single sources as other teams. However, on the whole, the ICL seems to have done a far better job of player distribution amongst teams when compared to the only other similar exercise – the premier hockey league, where players were fairly randomly distributed among the franchises giving each team little geographic identity.
The way most of these teams have been configured (ok i’m really stretching it here) reminds me of one article I had read in the ToI some 3 years back about the Milan team of the 1980s. That was the time when football teams had just started recruiting foreign players in big numbers. Milan had recruited the three Dutch stalwarts – Gullit, van Basten and Rijkaard. And the rest of the team was made up of local homegrown academy players. Thus, they managed to retain their traditional fan base while bringing in foreigners. The ToI article had gone on to say that the lack of local talent led to a massive erosion of support for Real Madrid during the galacticos era.
Similarly, here, the local guys in each team have been backed up by either retired or fringe international players. The team of coaches also looks quite good. The ICL had initially mentioned that each team would have about six local young talents. The number of unknown names in each list makes me believe they are actually sticking to that. It would be a great experience for these youngsters to be playing alongside the likes of Lara and Inzy and Cairns, and some might even grow up to be good enough for the BCCI to recognize the ICL and bring them to the mainstream.
Of course, challenges still remain. Zee Sports, where it will be telecast, reaches few homes. Demand won’t be strong enough for cable operators to take out one of the big sports channels and provide Zee sports. Tata SKY doesn’t offer the channel. That leaves just the Zee-controlled Dish TV system, not a huge audience. The matches themselves will be played in some nondescript stadium in Panchkula in Haryana. It is close to Chandigarh but I’m not sure about the crowds. Then, it is doubtful if the rest of the mainstream media will even cover these matches. That might have a huge bearing on the effect of the ICL. ???