The popularity of Cricket in India has been a matter of global attention. Many say Cricket is a religion in India. In fact it may be true. What else can justify a temple of “Cricket Ganesha” where a special “Sahasranaama” pooja is offered invoking the names of cricket legends such as Sachin and Saurav in the mantra!.

The BCCI (Board of Cricket Control in India) has effectively commercialized this popularity mainly through the marketing of cricketing events.  Today everything connected with Cricket is considered a “Property” of the BCCI and used as an instrument of  “licensing for a fee”.

There are no clear legal standards to define such an omnibus creation of rights in a private organization . By default BCCI s recognized as a premier Cricket regulator in India . BCCI has at various times challenged the Government of India itself stating that it is a private body and the Indian Test players play for “BCCI” and not for “India”. Public however have respected the game only because it represents the “nation” and not a private club. Hence “BCCI Team” in public perception has become the “Indian Team” and the devotion of the Indian public to Cricket in India is because it invokes national spirit.

The Indian Cricket has been a unique repository of camaraderie among  players from different regions or religions.  Though at times in the history of Indian Cricket, regional influences have surfaced, they have never grown out of control and the ugly factors of religion or caste has never been a concern.

The current state of Indian Cricket with crazy fan following and the money  potential is a reflection of the foundation laid by the Indian Test Cricket driven by national spirits.

Unfortunately, it appears that this position is now being threatened by the recent developments. The problems are surfacing in different forms during the conduct of the Indian Premier League (IPL) which has become a show piece of BCCI and its financial muscle.The recent incident of Harbhajan slapping Sreeshant in public is a clear indication of how the minds of players have been corrupted under the reign of BCCI.

In the past players like GR Vishwanath would recall the opposing Captain if they were wrongly given out. Today a senior Indian player goes to the extent of physically assaulting a fellow Indian player in public view and the manager is reportedly laughing at the incident.

Though one should appreciate the action of  BCCI  in moving swiftly and and imposing a 11 match ban on Harbhajan, resulting in a monetary fine of over Rs 3 crores and possible further penalties, it appears that the impact of this incident would be leaving scars on the Indian team in future. Dhoni has not helped the cause by expressing skewed support to Harbhajan in the incident.

Notwithstanding the friendly hug before the Cameras, it is inconceivable to think that Harbhajan would not nurse hurt egos of his own which would have its disturbing influence in the Indian dressing room.So far the players in the Indian dressing room had only one loyalty which was to the national cause. The huge money involved in the  The Indian Premier League (IPL) has however made IPL more important than the Test arena for Indian cricketers and hence the IPL loyalties will slowly eat into the national loyalty in the days to come.

The presence of current rival test players in the same team may improve cross country player friendship but the distribution of Indian players in different teams will spoil the relationship between Indian players. The Harbhajan-Sreeshant issue is an indication of this tendency.In this sense the “Brand -IPL team” may become more powerful than “Brand India”. This can therefore downgrade our national team’s performance in due course.

In this context, it is necessary to make a reference to the ICL (Indian Cricket League) which was started earlier by the Indian Cricket legend Kapil Dev and how the “Brand-ICL” impacts the other Indian Cricket brands.When ICL brand was born, the T-20 league format was not known in India. Being a private venture it did not have a conflict with the Indian Test Cricket brand. Hence ICL T20 was a new brand which did not have a direct conflict with the national Cricket brand nursed by BCCI.

IPL however is a brand which is promoted by BCCI the same owner of the national Cricket brand and hence there is a cannibalization of the earlier brand by the new brand. BCCI has been driven by its petty ego considerations in developing the IPL brand as a rival to the ICL brand and has not given due consideration to the effect of this “brand Conflict”.

The marketing wizards who are now associated with BCCI and helping it to encash the IPL brand value have vested interest in promoting the IPL brand where as there is no owner to promote the National Cricket brand other than BCCI or the Indian Public. We can therefore expect that in future the IPL brand gets more strength while the National Cricket brand would be orphaned and weak.

BCCI missed a good opportunity to protect its commercial interests without diluting the foundation brand of Indian Cricket by looking at ICL as a rival. Had BCCI entered into a compromise with  ICL authorities it would have been possible for them to have the Cake and eat it too. This would have ensured that the T20 brand would have been insulated from the national cricket brand while BCCI could have earned a fat royalty while the tournament was run by ICL organizers.

Observing the recently concluded ICL matches it appears that they were perhaps better organized than the IPL matches. Umpiring standards were better, there was less of filmy hype,  closer matches and more display of Indian young talent. Had thre been a strategic alliance between BCCI and ICL, it would have ensured that T20 format would have thrived without diluting the ODI or Test cricket. Presently it appears that T20 will grow but at the expense of ODI and  Test cricket. Like many good things we have lost in life in the name of progress, loss of the traditional cricket would also be one which people of the earlier generation has to absorb.

We donot know if the Clock can be put back.  But we hope that sooner or later  some visionaries will emerge in BCCI  who would raise above the personal ego equations and see that T20 brand is consolidated under the management of an “Associate” while BCCI takes ownership and strongly nurtures the “National Cricket Brands of Test and ODIs”.

If we start thinking in this direction, may be we can prevent the Indian Cricket going in the direction which Indian Hockey took in the last two decades.

Naavi of naavi.org 

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