Spectator sport

Spectator Sport

Money talks in Mumbai

27 February 2008

With Shilpa Shetty, Lachlan Murdoch, Aussie feist-meister Andrew Symonds and more Indian billionaires than you can shake a stump at, the eye-watering player-auction for the new Twenty20 Indian Premier League (IPL) in Mumbai last week was never going to be something tailored for the Long Room at Lord’s. But this should be good for cricket, and very good for good cricketers. Money well spent you might say.

In case you missed it, some of the world’s best players were sold off to a new set of eight big-city franchises across India — Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Jaipur (where young Lachlan’s Emerging Media owns the team) among others — for mind-blowing sums that put cricket on to the same sort of scale as the Premier League or American Football. India’s one-day captain and keeper M.S. Dhoni has gone (to Chennai) for £770,000 — that’s per year, for three years, for the six weeks of the League from mid-April to June. Do the math, as they say. Biggest priced non-Indian was Symonds (Hyderabad) at about £650,000. His captain Ricky Ponting went for a fraction of that. Ponts (Kolkata) of course has had a good laugh about that. Ha ha! I’m not sure it will be quite so chucklesome when they’re both playing for Australia again. And fellow-Aussie David Hussey (eh?) went for more than his much better-known Test playing brother Michael. Well, serves him right for having such an annoying nickname as ‘Mister Cricket’.

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So what’s not to like? There are faint twitterings that this will mean the end of Test cricket. Oh please. Whenever there’s a controversy in sport, the answer is almost invariably television. So Twenty20 is perfect for TV: short, highly sponsored, and a big audience. But so is Test cricket: the five-day game is made for TV, especially satellite channels which have hours of time to fill cheaply. It’s a perfect match. And Dhoni, Sanath Jayasuriya (Mumbai, £480,000), Brett Lee (Mohali, £440,000) and chums know they are only pulling in this money because they play Test cricket. Or did. And the IPL should be good for young cricketers too. Each starting line-up in the 59 games of the League must have four Indian players aged 22 or under. Beat that for a youth policy.

The 50-over game may have to look at itself but not before time. The ODI fixture list will be sorted out, and meaningless triangular tournaments, the last legacy of the Packer revolution, will be chopped. But the format is pretty sturdy. And a great game has texture too, like a good Test match. Remember that tied World Cup semi-final between Australia and South Africa which ended on a last-ball run-out? It was a game that had swung backwards and forwards, and it was a game that mattered. One thing no one can say about Twenty20 is that the games are textured. And they don’t matter that much, but they are fantastic fun.

There are no English players in the IPL, and that could mean some fun at the next round of bidding. All the main candidates are on central contracts to English cricket and at pretty good money too — between £200,000 and 300,000 depending on status. It’s probably only Andrew Flintoff (if fit), Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen who would get a bid, though Alastair Cook has Bollywood-level good looks. You’d certainly like to eavesdrop on any phone calls from KP to his agent right now, though.

As for the rugby, surely the Scots would play better if their shirts weren’t quite so awful? And when will BBC commentating whizz Austin Healey leave his collection of interestingly patterned scarfs to the nation?

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