Call it an unequal match, and you’re in no danger of being roasted for your arrogance. Take a look at the numbers and you’ll get the dark history of the West Indies’ downfall as a cricketing powerhouse.
India have just recorded their 12th consecutive victory in one day against the West Indies. This means that the latter has not won a bilateral series against India since 2006. The once-powerful Caribbean team ranks 9th on the list of one-day international teams recently released by ICC, ahead of the Afghanistan, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates. In tests, the ranking is a modest eight out of ten countries and in T20 it is seventh. In January this year, they lost a one-day home series to Ireland 2-1. What we have before us is certainly not the impressive Antilles of the 1970s and 1980s, but a poor shadow of them. The decline has been gradual and appears irreversible at this stage.
Rankings and numbers, however, never tell you the whole story. What then explains the fall? No, it is not a lack of talent or petty politics inside the cricketing establishment there or the sudden shift of the younger generation from cricket to basketball or football. It’s something more fundamental: the economy – the financial viability of the game.
But wait; it could be the story of the downfall of cricket as we knew it decades ago. At the time, any talk of diluting either format – the T20s hadn’t arrived yet – was sacrilege. The players spoke of passion and pride while representing the country. Bilateral series have flourished although few countries except the big three – India, Australia and England – have benefited from them. At some point, reality had to kick in. Cricket was no longer financially viable for most countries. It turned out to be an expensive indulgence for them.
The tests meant a loss of money for the host country and the income of the day laborers decreased. While only India has ably managed to harness popular gambling passion to find profits, others have fallen far behind. Boards everywhere were staring at scary outcomes and fights between them and players were becoming commonplace. West Indies had a public falling out between the two, and it was nasty. Same case with South Africa. Other countries have been just about successful in keeping the brewing dispute out of the public eye. The situation was desperate and there seemed to be no way out. This was seen in the performance of the teams.
But, finally, there is hope for cricket. Twenty20 league cricket proves to be the savior of the game. To put it more accurately, Indian business acumen gives it the kiss of life. How!
In a recent auction for the upcoming Cricket South Africa T20 league, owners of Indian Premier League (IPL) teams bought all six franchises. For the financially troubled South African board, this resulted in a windfall gain of Rs 1,200 crore. For those not in the know, the Mumbai Indians, Lucknow Super Giants and Chennai Super Kings have paid between three and five million dollars to secure franchises in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. Sunrisers owners Hyderabad, Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Capitals won Port Elizabeth, Paarl and Pretoria respectively.
The IPL branded team owners got involved in the Caribbean Premier League earlier and now own three franchises, Trinbago Knight Riders, St Lucia Kings and Barbados Royals. The other franchises have Indians with high financial stakes. The financial returns may not compare to India here, but IPL teams are more keen to grow their fan base and brand value in new territories. The Caribbean board is doing better with the influx of foreign funds. While most countries already had copycat leagues, not all managed to turn them into profitable businesses. The involvement of IPL teams is likely to change that. And it’s a win-win not only for the boards fighting for money, but for the players as well. The big winner is cricket. Because money earned from league cricket can be channeled into maintaining healthy Test and One-Day formats. And league cricket is expanding the reach of the game to new countries.
The encouraging scenario is not without setbacks, however. With individual countries creating windows in their annual schedule for league matches, the space for bilateral testing and one-dayers is likely to be tight. A format must be sacrificed in the long term. It is also likely that the leagues will produce mercenary cricketers who would find little pride in playing for their country in longer formats. These are issues that the guardians of the game eventually have to deal with, but for now it’s quite encouraging that cricket isn’t collapsing.
IPL has surely been a disruptive force for the game, but it also becomes its saviour. It’s all about economy, isn’t it?