Everyone feels the heat in the T20 leagues

Blog Opinion

The franchise owners are an impatient lot. Whatever they may claim in public, T20 leagues are more about business than about cricket.

Many people seem to underestimate the pressure on players participating in T20 leagues like the IPL, BBL etc, especially if the team is not doing well and one is the captain or a player 'bought' at an exorbitant price.

So are you wondering why Mahendra Singh Dhoni not only played Ravindra Jadeja in every match of Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in last year's IPL, but also promoted him in the batting lineup (over players like Albie Morkel and himself) and used him to bowl full quota of four overs in many games despite being whacked all over the park?

He was helping Jadeja justify his US$ 2 million price tag (and in the process trying to justify the selection in which I am sure he must have had a big say). For the very same reason, I expect Glenn Maxwell to turn out for all of Mumbai Indians' games even if it means leaving guys like Dwayne Smith and James Franklin out.

Coming back to the pressure, the players get a lot of flak from the public and the media when the national team is not doing well. The history of Indian cricket has the names of many promising international careers that ended abruptly (and unfairly) when the whole team was under performing because 'heads had to roll'.

Politics at BCCI and inexplicable selections (example: regional bias towards players, favoring under performing 'youngsters' over consistent and mature players in late 20s and early 30s) continue to be chronic problems as well. Yet there is a process (a faulty one, I agree) and most players and the new captain are given some time to settle and prove themselves.

However, the franchise owners are an impatient lot. Whatever they may claim in public, T20 leagues are more about business than about cricket. They want their teams to do well at all costs for three main reasons: (i) prize money along with additional financial benefits like income from participation in Champions League (ii) building a winning brand which can be monetized in the years to come (iii) massaging of their personal egos.

Consequently, it doesn't matter if you have played 100 Tests and 200 ODIs, if the team is not doing well, you shall get that call from the team owner after the match and the conversation won't be a pleasant one. Every selection and on-field decision shall be questioned irrespective of the team owner's cricket acumen.

It is even worse when the senior management of the team owner's company start providing their unsolicited 'expert advice'. The team is a business venture and the profit driven team owners want their returns. The entire SRK-Sourav Ganguly saga (removal from captaincy and then ousted from the squad itself) over Kolkata Knight Riders is a case in point.

Not only the players, but even the support staff (mostly former players) and the administrative staff, feel the heat (remember Charu Sharma, who was 'rumored' to be sacked by Vijay Mallya after the string of bad performances by Royal Challengers in IPL I).

So, as entertaining as these leagues are to the average viewer, there is genuine commercial pressure on the players, most of whom are playing the leagues for some quick cash. Unlike playing for the national team, there is no country's pride and honor to play for here.

Moreover, it is impossible to develop a team spirit as everyone knows that thanks to auctions and trading windows, your teammate in this season might well be your opponent in the next (Ross Taylor would end up playing for 3 different franchises in the IPL in six seasons).

For that matter even your franchise might 'release' you after this season and you might end up being the captain for another team next season (examples: Sourav Ganguly for Kolkata Knight Riders and Pune Warriors, and Adam Gilchrist for Deccan Chargers and Kings XI Punjab).

Even the loyalty of the support staff can be bought at the right price (example: Anil Kumble, who was the Chief Mentor of Royal Challengers Bangalore up until last year, shall be the Chief Mentor for Mumbai Indians in IPL VI).

I have not even touched the subject of domestic players being contracted by franchises and 'released' next season without getting a single game.

Another headache many players face in the IPL is the work to be done to honor the sponsorship commitments made by team owners to the team sponsors. Many would argue that most top-level players do endorsements anyway but in my opinion that is completely different from being 'directed' to go and do ad-campaigns and other events by the team owners. The players have little or no control over this 'work' that comes as a part of their deal with the franchise owners.

Moving away from the IPL, things aren't any better in other T20 leagues. There are issues of payments to players in the Bangladesh Premier Leagues (BPL). Though to be fair, even the players who played for the now disbanded IPL team Kochi Tuskers Kerala haven't been paid all their dues.

More importantly, players struggle to get NOCs (No Objection Certificates) from their boards/counties to play in these leagues for a variety of reasons. Indian players can't play in the BBL, many cricket boards are concerned about safety of their players if they compete in Pakistan Super League, counties are concerned that players would choose T20 leagues over their county commitments and disrupt the team balance.

We have seen so many examples of players choosing the cash in the IPL over their national commitments and thereby upsetting their national cricket boards in the process.

In conclusion, there a ruthless commercial side behind all the glitz and glamour of these T20 leagues where both players and team owners seek to make as much moolah as they can and things like loyalty and team spirit are fragile commodities.

<b>Tanuj Khosla</b>