Ooof — break

Working on the few remaining pages of India Abroad — and then a two-day break. Much to say but it can all wait for Monday. Be well you guys, and here’s to a great weekend.

Rajan Bala RIP

Veteran cricket correspondent Rajan Bala, who was in a coma since a heart attack, has passed away. Suresh Menon pays tribute.

Just over a quarter century ago, Rajan was sports editor at Deccan Herald, Bangalore. On my first day at work, fresh out of university, I asked hesitantly, “Is it all right to smoke in here?” and was welcomed with the memorable words: “So long as you don’t f**k on my table, you can do what you want.” Rajan was friend, guide, philosopher and mentor to a bunch of talented youngsters who went on to make a name for themselves. At a recent Test match, someone calculated that the press box was filled with a good percentage of Rajan’s boys and one-time acolytes. All of them had been put through the Bala school of hard work, passion, respect for facts and endless debates over bottled stuff. All of us were inspired to feel extremely possessive about the game: if things went wrong we felt personally responsible. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” Rajan was fond of quoting. Sixty-three is no age to die.

Open sesame

So it had everything: agriculture [Ross Taylor], industry [in the form of some frantic running between wickets; Duminy alone ran 25 of them], art [Duminy again, in a bravura display that yet again reminded us that good batsmen can more times than not be more effective than the pure sloggers; Uthappa, who after the ball stopped jagging around played some pure cricket shots and played them well] — the curtain raiser had them all. A houseful crowd got to see 364 runs made in 40 overs in a game that had enough twists and turns to trick out a Dan Brown novel, and there was none of the stasis you find in the mid overs of an ODI.

A friend called from Chennai late last night with his own eureka moment: “You know how you are always rabbiting on about the need for reform in ODIs? While you weren’t watching, the format went and reformed itself  — it’s now called T20”.

A touch extreme, but he just might have a point; if club-based cricket catches on in the CL the way franchise cricket clicked in the IPL, the reformers just might end up with nothing to do but strike out most bilateral ODIs from the calendar, and focus only on a biennial world-level tournament in the 50-over format, while T20 becomes the main moneyspinner.

A word in passing: I didn’t get home in time for the opening ceremony, but the other half told me it was fairly spectacular. Well, whatever — there is nary an image in the morning’s papers or slide show on Rediff, Cricinfo and similar websites, which tells me Lalit Modi’s ridiculous rules restricting the use of photographs remain in force.

Flush with his latest triumph, the “brainchild behind the IPL” won’t grasp just how short-sighted the policy of media restriction is. An initiative of this kind can gain immeasurably from buzz, and imposing all kinds of regulations on the media is not the way to get it — a truth that will likely dawn on him as this competition, and the IPL, moves out of the initial phase and seeks to consolidate.

On another note, a Tristan Holme piece has some input on the financial side of the tournament.

Twenty20 cynics may scoff at the suggestion, but the proof is in the numbers. $2.5m is up for grabs at this tournament – more than Durham received for winning the County Championship this year – and even teams who don’t make it beyond the group stage will pocket $600,000. Add to that extra sponsorships such as the Cobras’ sponsorship deal with a local mobile phone company and the effect this tournament could have is undeniable.

The increasing flow of money into cricket should be welcomed so long as the dangers are recognised. If a healthy proportion of it is set aside for the promotion and development of the game then all the better. Organisers insist that the way revenue is split here should prevent a gap opening up between rich and poor in the same way that football’s Champions League has ruined competition in domestic leagues. Each national board receives $500,000 per franchise representing them in the Champions League Twenty20, so the hope is that that money will be filtered down to clubs who haven’t qualified.

Yet when Somerset and Sussex are guaranteed $600,000 each and the ECB have just $1m to share among the other 16 counties there is an obvious disparity. The biggest concern is that the gold rush in domestic twenty20 leagues will lead to franchises over-extending themselves financially and coming up short.

I don’t know so much — since when was sport the last bastion of communism? Teams and individuals that do well earn, those that don’t, don’t — period. You don’t see the cash-rich tennis, golf and soccer tournaments setting aside a “healthy proportion” of their profits for the “development of the game”, and I don’t think that is a consideration for the Champions’ League either.

It’s simple: “cricket” doesn’t develop, players do. And players will have an incentive to develop their skills only when there is money in the game. The more leagues like the IPL and CL develop, the more opportunities it provides for recognition, money.  In turn, that success will inspire initiatives like this — and over time, as youngsters find the incentive to consider cricket as a career, the trickle up effect will kick in.

In the meantime, the ECB for example gets to pocket a cool $1 million for doing nothing for 16 days. It will, we are told, share that money with the clubs that didn’t qualify for the CL — but why should it? Strikes me, the availability of sizeable prize money is a good incentive for those clubs to get their game on, and seek to qualify. That in turn will heighten the domestic competition, which is good for bringing spectators in. Meanwhile, that $1 million annually [likely more as the tournament expands] pumped into “development” will go some distance.

Modi makes that point with some force:

“From this year itself the tournaments in countries like Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies will become more competitive. You’ll see players who were not participating in domestic tournaments who will now take part and do well. Before, once players graduated from their clubs, they became international players and if at all they went back to their clubs they hardly played a few games. But the rules of the Champions League are that you have to play for your club, and your club must win to participate here. You won’t get a chance to be here unless you’ve not played for your club.”

Dean Kino, head of business and legal affairs for the Champions League, said one positive fallout of this competition would be to give context to domestic cricket. “It increases the passion of grassroots cricketers to be involved for their states and provinces. If you look at the interest in the KFC Twenty20 Big Bash in Australia and the IPL over the last six months, you will see that the result of going to the Champions League has been hugely stimulating. At the domestic level it will drive young cricketers to the game and that will build on domestic cricket and make it stronger.”

Right. India Abroad duty, today — blogging will necessarily be desultory. Later, peoples.