The Indian Cricket League is set to begin on November 30, with a host of familiar names taking part, though many are no longer playing international cricket. Here’s your guide to the unofficial Twenty20 tournament
What is the Indian Cricket League?
The Indian Cricket League (ICL) is a tournament set to run parallel to BCCI-run tournaments in India. Contrary to common perception, the ICL is not a breakaway league but an entirely new entity.
How did the ICL come about?
The roots of the ICL lies in the same issue as those of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket: discontent over TV rights. The Essel Group’s Zee TV believed it got a raw deal in the allocation of Indian cricket¹s TV rights the last time around when, despite making the highest bid, Zee was denied the rights for want of experience in sport broadcasting. The ICL – a joint venture between the Essel Group and Infrastructure Leasing & Finance Services (IL&FS) – is seen by many as Essel head Subhash Chandra Goel’s attempt to get back at the BCCI.
The Essel Group announced the formation of the league on April 3, 2007, saying the BCCI had failed to create “a reserve pipeline of players”, and that the idea behind the league was to create an “ideal pool with killing instinct”. They were quick to add that the ICL was not in conflict with the BCCI, and the board would be free to draw from the ICL’s talent pool.
What is the Essel Group?
Essel is one of India’s leading business houses, with interests in media, packaging, entertainment, education, and infrastructure development among other areas. It had an estimated turnover of $2.1 billion for the last financial year. Zee TV, with a range of specialist channels – news to entertainment to sport – has a strong presence in the Indian electronic media market, and the group’s DNA is a new entrant in the English-language newspaper market.
How is the ICL different from other leagues, like, say, the Kanga League?
Unlike other leagues that are run or funded by the BCCI or other parties, the ICL involves television coverage, which is the BCCI¹s main source of revenue.
Who will play in the league?
The ICL currently comprises six teams: Mumbai Champs, Chandigarh Lions, Chennai Super Stars, Delhi Jets, Hyderabad Heroes and Kolkata Tigers. The ICL, with its talent scouts -Balwinder Sandhu, Pranab Roy, Erapalli Prasanna, Bharat Reddy, and Rajesh Chauhan, all former India players at various levels – has managed to assemble a core of overseas players who have either retired from international cricket or are disgruntled with their respective boards (or are simply in it for the money) , sidelined Indian internationals who have little hope of making it back into the national team, and domestic players, most of whom are nowhere close to national selection.
The biggest draws for the ICL at present are Brian Lara, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Lance Klusener, Chris Cairns, Nathan Astle, Chris Harris, Abdul Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood, Imran Farhat, Nicky Boje, Vikram Solanki, Paul Nixon, Hamish Marshall, Dinesh Mongia and Deep Dasgupta.
After a lull in recruitment, several England cricketers – including Paul Nixon, Chris Read and Vikram Solanki – and South African cricketers such as Dale Benkenstein signed up fir the ICL In the fortnight before the teams for the tournament were announced.
Pakistan batsman Mohammad Yousuf was one of the ICL’s star recruits but he later cancelled his contract and joined the officially sanctioned Twenty20 tournament, the Indian Premier League (IPL). Several other marquee names such as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Stephen Fleming were initially reported to be interested in the ICL, but are now associated with the IPL.
What is the lure for players to join the ICL?
Although there are no official figures, it is speculated that on the lower end of the scale a player stands to earn as much as Rs 30 lakh ($72,600 approximately) a year, irrespective of how many matches he plays.
The ICL’s fees for ex-internationals are said to be substantially higher. Players from the English counties will earn, it is believed, £50,000 for a three-week stint.
The league has promised $1 million in prize money in the first season, half of which goes to the champion team. The Ranji Trophy champions last season took away Rs 50 lakh (US$127,000) by comparison.
Essel has promised to invest Rs 100 crore (US$ 25 million approximately) on the ICL to start with. It also claims it will look after the players better than the BCCI does and provide them job security.
While the prize money for the ICL seemed enormous at the time of the announcement, the wind was taken out of its sails by the IPL which offered US$ 3million as prize money. Also, in a move widely seen as a reaction to the ICL, the BCCI increased both the pay and the prize money on offer in domestic cricket.
What is the format of the tournament?
The inaugural tournament of the Indian Cricket League (ICL) will be held between November 30 and December 16 at the Tau Devi Lal Cricket Stadium in Panchkula, Chandigarh (four hours from Delhi). The tournament will comprise 20 Twenty20 matches, with the final on December 16. The dates for the tournament clash with India’s home Test series against Pakistan.
What is the standing of the ICL in international cricket?
The BCCI has not recognised the league, in consequence to which the ICC and most national cricket boards have refused to recognise it.
Indian players, current or former, who associate with the ICL in any capacity have been barred from availing any BCCI benefits – which also implies they will not be eligible for selection to the national team. The ICL, though, has moved court, contesting the BCCI’s right to represent “India”.
Several national boards have also threatened to ban their players for aligning with the ICL. However, the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA), which is the representative body of first-class cricketers in England and Wales, has come out in support of the cricketers who have joined the ICL.
Where does the ICL go from here?
Not entirely clear. It’s still a surprise to some that the ICL has made it so far, got so many players on board and found a ground on which to hold the tournament. Indian television channels – and not just those owned by the Zee group – are running promos. There is even talk of a repeat tournament six months down the line.
Much will depend on the success – always a relative word, in this case even more so – of the first tournament. If Lara, Inzamam and the other big names land up and catch fire, if the concurrent India-Pakistan series starts to drift, the public will be more likely to watch. Meanwhile, the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission’s (MRTPC) investigative wing is looking into the BCCI¹s refusal to share infrastructure with the ICL. If the courts conclude that the BCCI is indulging in monopolistic practices, they can intervene, much like they did when they fined the board for barring players from writing for newspapers and magazines. The coming months promise to be interesting, not necessarily in purely cricketing terms.