Daily Archives: 10 March 2010

IPL Season-3 Preview: A few heartbeats away

Season-3 of the IPL is on us.

We know it the moment we see Lalit Modi’s face and hear his lisp everywhere. The papers, TV Channels and Twitterdom are full of sound bytes from the man who seems to be perpetually in a hurry. He represents the New Age India: an angry, brash, self-confident person, eager to take on the world. The fact that he has managed to take some of Old India along with him on this mysterious journey is a credit to his passion as well as self-belief. If Jagmohan Dalmiya commenced the process of establishment-nose-thumbing, Lalit Modi, more than anyone else, has transformed the face of Indian cricket and the manner in which it is viewed — not only by the cricket world, but also by the world of business and entertainment.

No wonder Sports Illustrated India recently placed Lalit Modi at #2 on the list of “50 Most Powerful People in Indian Sport”, just behind Sachin Tendulkar.

In a short period of time, he has risen to the top of the tree and has left even hitherto powerful sports stars (Sania Mirza is at #50), franchise owners (Shah Rukh Khan is at #28) and cricket administrators in his wake.

What’s more? He has taken a few others along with him in his joy ride. Ravi Krishnan, the President of IMG India kicks in at #27 on this list, just ahead of Shah Rukh Khan! While Ravi Krishnan has been in the India sports scene since IMG’s Chennai Tennis Open days, his appearance on this Power List at #27 (one ahead of Shah Rukh Khan and about 5 ahead of Harsha Bhogle) is in no small measure due to his savvy skills in bringing IMG back to the table as the event management company in charge of the IPL.

No one seems to know — or indeed seems to care — where the IPL will end up 3-4 years from now. For now, everyone seems happy: the franchise owners, players, administrators, broadcasters, advertisers and (most importantly) the fans. The IPL is a happy marriage of cricket, TV, Bollywood, entertainment and advertising.

The IPL fits well with the New India: A in-your-face and in-a-hurry, short, sweet sexy package that is peppy, racy and based on reality drama. Everyone wants it and clamours for it. Oh! And by the way, while talent is a pre-requisite, if you can compensate lack of talent with bling and biff, then bring it on!

The IPL has its cyincs and doubters. Gideon Haigh recently said, “Twenty20 is a TV property masquerading as cricket property,” in a CricInfo conversation with Harsha Bhogle and Sanjay Manjrekar. It is true that Haigh has been a T20-IPL-Modi doubter for a long time. It is true that Haigh does not like the T20 format. He may have also developed a distaste for the IPL. He probably breaks into an allergic rash everytime he hears the name Modi. But in my view, his is not the voice of a doomsday-scenario painter, although it is easy for one to think of him in those terms. In my view, in these times of extreme hype and huge profits, his voice brings balance to the marketing cacophony that surrounds this form of the game.

The point is that T20 has been hugely popular in every market that it has been played in. The IPL has packaged it in an excellent manner as a made-for-TV and a made-for-corporate-India drama. The BCCI has unleashed, through Lalit Modi, a product that has delivered the game some excitement and more respect than it probably deserves. And everyone is happy.

But there are significant challenges with the IPL.

It seems to me to be a journey whose destination is yet unknown.

There is far too much “policy on the fly” and “process refinement through band-aids” at the moment. The 7.5-minute “strategy break” after over #10 — which itself was announced/pronounced/decreed a few days prior to the start of IPL-2 — has been replaced in IPL-3 with two 2.5-minute strategy breaks; one which the bowling team can take between overs 6 and 8 and the other, which the batting team can take between overs 11 and 16.

Is this a “policy on the fly” or is it a “let us suck it and see” approach? Take your pick. Personally, I am not really that fussed with tinkering of this sort that makes the game more interesting and engaging.

What is a bit more worrying is the bullish manner (not to mention “band-aid” and “seat of pants” manner) in which matters like security, safety and the efficacy of the tendering process are handled.

Witness the arbitrary and unexplained delays in the tendering process for IPL franchises 9 and 10 that are set to commence from IPL-Season-4. The arbitrary nature of the process postponement (and the subsequent relaxation of some of the bidding rules) left the bidders that had already submitted valid bids extremely angry and bitter. Fair enough. I would be extremely upset too if I had submitted a valid bid!

The reason for the tender postponement, according to BCCI Secretary, Niranjan Shan, that supreme exemplar and embodiment of professional and ethical communications was, “The [BCCI] president felt a few clauses were too stiff and he wanted some modifications. Since the president’s approval is necessary for going ahead with the process and naming the winning bids, the entire process was cancelled and we asked for fresh tenders, which will now be opened on March 21.”

Surely, the BCCI president knew of the bidding rules and ought to have signed-off on the bidding rules and the process before the tender documents were released and not post-facto?

In my view, “policy on the fly” and “flying by the seat of ones pants” is ok for an organisation in its inception — especially one that is in a tearing hurry to make its mark in the world. Moreover, I think that this “policy on the fly” fits in quite comfortably with India, Inc, where adaptability and nimbleness is the modern matra for success. However, I would like to think that the organisation would need to acquire stability — much more solidity — if it aspires for a global footprint and global respect. A “we are like this only” attitude just will not cut it. That will do when operating in a market that is dominated by scarcity. But global respect requires much more by way of solidity, professionalism, accountability and transparency.

And therein lies a major challenge for the IPL.

Another challenge, in my view is the boredom that is likely to emanate from the “sameness” that this format can bring with it.

Despite these blips, the fact is that the IPL is a force to reckon with.

Fast Company — a company that has its eye on innovation trends and digital media — put the IPL as the 22nd most innovative company in the world — ahead of established blue-chips and brands like Frito-Lay, Samsung, Twitter and Microsoft! The IPL was also labelled the 2nd most innovative sports company in the world! It made 4th place on the Forbes List of the world’s hottest sporting properties.

More power to the IPL and more power to Lalit Modi.

In the meanwhile though, sit back and enjoy the ride for the next 50 days or so and get used to terms like “DLF Max” (and for the uninitiated, that’s the new term for “a six”).

— Mohan