During a recent conversation, Harsha Bhogle had argued the case for reworking the structure of domestic cricket in India. Shifting to a franchise-driven model would, he argued, bring in more revenues, improve the quality of the game, and enhance competitiveness.
The problem with such suggestions is, where do you start? You can clearly see the Utopian ideal, but you can see with equal clarity that there is no way out of the vicious cycle the game is trapped in. The only ones who can bring about the change are the associations — and they are also the ones who stand to lose everything if change happens, and thus have a deeply vested interest in maintaining the status quo ante.
Some revolutions begin with a blood and thunder storming of the Bastille, but more often, radical change has small beginnings, Harsha suggested later, once the interview proper was over and we were chatting of this and that.
He might have a point, judging by the story of the Karnataka Premier League.
For starters, it avoids the mistake the ICL made and stakes out territory the heavy hitters have no interest in. To wit, state-level domestic cricket which, in terms of interest, ranks even lower than the Ranji and other national competitions.
The teams are paid for and operated by private franchises who are prepared, for a variety of reasons, to pay to promote the sport — thus fulfilling one of the key points of Harsha’s argument.
The league provides a crisp, focused competition; it creates a platform — and generates additional employment — for talent that would otherwise have gone unnoticed; it generates spectator interest within the defined geography [8000 people for one of the games? You don't get that for a Ranji final].
The most interesting aspect, for me, is that the KPL is an example of how public-private partnerships can work to the benefit of both — the IPL model, scaled down to the grassroots. While on this, I was somewhat surprised by Anil Kumble’s reaction to the development:
The decision to go with the franchise system drew some flak, notably from Kumble and Srinath, who both wondered why the KSCA needed external financial support to run the league when it receives a grant from the BCCI. Kumble was typically blunt: “In its current form, it would allow a backdoor entry into the KSCA for people not passionate about cricket,” he said.
Anil has one of the most balanced voices in Indian cricket, hence my surprise at his unstated subtext: that ‘passion for cricket’ is exclusive to those who are part of the administration.
While the lack of infrastructure in the districts remains a problem, the KSCA realises the need to move more of the tournament outside Bangalore, which hosted all but six of the 31 games this season. “We are planning to go, from the next edition onwards, to other locations in Karnataka,” Srikantadatta Wadiyar, a descendant of the Mysore royal family and current KSCA president, says. “The idea is to ultimately take it to the respective locations and zones [of the franchises].”
The problem and solution are closely interlinked. There is no infrastructure in the districts because they don’t get sufficient quality cricket to require the expenditure; take cricket into the hinterlands, and the infrastructure will follow. Additionally:
The franchises are also looking ahead to the next season. Mangalore has announced its plans to start an academy to spot and groom talent. Belgaum is looking at providing equipment and forming teams within its catchment area, and holding intra-zone tournaments. “We are committed to four tournaments a year in Belgaum,” Hoover says. “We will club some areas together and make a team; we plan to have five or six such teams, who will then face off against each other.”
This is the other point that Harsha mentioned — and one that directly refutes Anil’s contention. The KSCA gets grants from the BCCI and hence has no real interest in developing talent. Private franchises, which put money where the association’s mouth is, are however aware that the players are its stock in trade, and thus tend to be more proactive.
The biggest plus of the KPL is that it provides a model — of partnership between franchises, the official association, and the local media — that can be transplanted to other regions. Do that, and you have created a platform to discover and hone fresh talent, re-ignited spectator interest at the domestic level, provided additional employment opportunities to a whole host of players currently on the outside of the money trough looking in, and created a feeder system for the IPL.
What’s not to like?
Addendum: Okay, Srikanth answers that question in the comments field:
I agree the concept of KPL is worth it… I, being a Kannadiga, was eager to see the talent from remote places of Karnataka to take part in KPL. Only then we may get raw talent with unique approach to the game.
However, there was a glitch in this edition of KPL, there were 8 franchises and each squad was filled with students from ex-cricketers’ academies… The local talents (from Belagaum, Mangalore, Davangere etc) were limited to 2 to 4 per squad and those guys hardly got a chance to be a part of playing 11.
I hope to see this issue not getting repeated next edition of KPL, as KPL would be held across various venues in Karnataka from next season.
Right, that’s an unnecessary glitch that hopefully will get sorted out in edition two.
In passing, the franchise structure will work to optimum if each franchise takes responsibility for developing its own talent bank. An interesting option could be tie-ups with various cricket academies — with, of course, the provision that selection be based on merit, not on ‘influence’.