April 2008: That was the month when began the greatest sporting championship the country had ever seen, The Indian Premier League or better known as the IPL.
Based on the concept of the hugely successful and popular English Premier League for football in England, the IPL broke all the traditional barriers to embrace the latest, shortest and the most exciting form of one of the oldest field sports recorded in the history of mankind. The formation of the IPL was something similar to the story of State Bank of India (SBI) eventually embracing ATMs in India. Well, the story goes something like this:
SBI initially criticized and ridiculed the concept of ATMs, saying that in a country with so many illiterates, people living in villages, lack of lawlessness in many parts of the nation etc, a person using a card with protected magnetic strip, interacting with a machine to withdraw money, and that too safely, is definitely going to be a flop show. But other banks thought otherwise and started setting up their own ATMs in various parts of the country. Yes, there were isolated incidents of loot outside ATMs, people not being comfortable dealing with the machine etc, just like the problems faced initially when a new system is introduced. Slowly and steadily there was a rise in the popularity of the ATMs and banks having more ATMs started becoming more profitable as well. This was when SBI realized its folly and found itself lacking in terms of the competition with other newer and smaller sized banks and thus accepted this wonder invention and how. Today SBI by far has the maximum no. of ATMs in the country and is one of the few govt. owned institutions in the country to be hugely successful and giving other private banks a run for their money!
Indian cricket too treaded on the same path. After the wonder invention of the T20 cricket, the board dismissed it as a too-short-for-cricket format and a diluter of the traditional 5-day game, the TEST cricket which still remains the ultimate test for a cricketer. It was 2007 and the mood of the most spectacular event in cricket was about to start, the ICC World Cup. India sent a decently strong team under the leadership of Rahul Dravid. But India’s hopes of making it to the knockout stages were dashed in the very first match itself after losing against Bangladesh. It was a big flop show from the Indian cricket team and which in turn flopped the whole of WC itself considering that even Pakistan crashed out unceremoniously. But the team got a great chance to heal its World Cup wounds by doing nothing but performing better in the upcoming World Cup, only that it was different ball game (not literally!) since it was the T20 WC which the Indians neither had favored since its inception nor did they have enough experience in the format. The experienced players took a back seat and withdrew their participation from the tournament and a young team under a young leader was sent to the competition. And rest as they say is history and one which no one expected. The T20 WC came home and opened the eyes of many people against it and showed the potential it held in this country.
In the mean time came the Indian Cricket League (ICL) as well. The ICL went against the all powerful BCCI to start a T20 cricket league of its own. BCCI used its entire mite and even threatened the people who showed interest in being associated with the league that they would be banned for life from playing matches for their country or their respective domestic tournaments. Still the ICL happened, defying all the warnings and threats from cricket boards. It made a lot of noise and had its fair of success in terms of viewership but more importantly it sent a message to the BCCI that cricket without it can happen! Suddenly the young lot Indian cricket started getting lured by this new league and undermined the threats issued by the board. National prospects quit domestic cricket and participated in the league. This was the state not just in India but even outside. Former and current overseas players too started giving up their desire of playing for their nation by accepting the lucrative offers of the ICL. Kerry Packer was again back to haunt cricket since he had treaded on a similar path back in the late 70s which ruined careers of many bright cricketers like Tony Grieg. This was too much for the egoistic BCCI to be mum and meekly accept defeat. And to merely teach the ICL a lesson for its deeds, BCCI came up the concept of IPL. Loosely based on the functioning of the English Premier League for football in England, it was an instant success amongst the players, team-owners and fans all around the world.
April/May 2011: IPL is still alive and kicking in its 4th season. Just like the SBI, the BCCI too took time to realize the potential of a new invention. But after the realization the invention was taken to an altogether different level in terms of its reach!
Now where does hockey come into the picture? Once the pride of our country, hockey today has been relegated to merely being called the national game in different school text books but not living up to the name and benchmarks set by the predecessors in this beautiful and enthralling game. The game is definitely not getting its due and it is high time we started taking it seriously and bring back the lost glory. Hockey needs a large scale revamp to match to the popularity that cricket has managed to garner. And IPL is one great model which the hockey authorities can emulate and create a league of its own. Yes, it was tried previously and didn’t succeed to the expected levels but the way it organized can be changed with the IPL model coming into the picture. 2 things about hockey that need urgent attention are: improving the image of the game and attracting youngsters pick up the “stick” and not the “bat”. Short sports have always been more exciting than their longer-duration cousins. Still cricket has managed to become popular amongst the young and the old alike in this country. Surely the quality of cricket and players playing has improved for which the credit should be given to the various cricket boards for having a sound domestic set up to nurture young cricketers. This surely can be done for hockey too. But as all of us know the ever efficient Hockey India, if wished, would have sweated it out done that long back. So this option no more remains an option. Then what is the way out? Commercialization of the game is one way that comes to my mind. So many youngsters are today attracted by the fame and name that T20 cricket gets along with it for the players, which makes them take their game seriously and not just as a hobby. This in turn churns out talent from the lot. Any day, having more options to choose from is better than having few. That’s what the case with the advent of IPL is. So can’t we have an HPL for hockey too, where corporates can be asked to pick up teams and players and have a tournament among them? What will this ultimately do?
a) It will serve as a great platform for young players to showcase their talent and be recognized
b) More youngsters will take up the game seriously as a career option since they can see a bright future in the game with the corporate bigwigs involved.
c) Better playing facilities (which ideally should have been provided by the hockey board, but… never mind!) from the team owners.
d) The game will again get a chance to connect with the people since they can catch it live on the television.
For starters, the hockey board can approach the BCCI itself to help them out with the whole procedure to begin with and I think the BCCI would be more than happy to extend a helping hand to Hockey India. But the initiative should come from the hockey board. The existing IPL team owners can be called for a meeting and can be asked for their opinions on it which would come in very handy, since they have vast experience in their field and also for the very fact that they might ultimately be the likely owners of the teams. Hopefully this happens and we can get to cheer our regional teams.
Finally, I am not sure if this idea is novel since I feel the IPL success is very visible and at the same time Hockey India is thinking of how to get the sports back into news for the right reasons. The question and the answer both are with the hockey board. But the big question is whether they are really looking out for the solution??? My guess is as good as yours.