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Oh, those poor IPL billionaires

Oh, those poor IPL billionaires

File photo

Rohit Mahajan

Money talks — and obscene amounts of money spout, well, very impolite and rude talk. KL Rahul, India cricketer, may be hero to a billion, but to his IPL team owner, he’s a minion, even if —and perhaps especially because — he makes Rs 17 crore from them annually: he must perform to justify his large salary.

Rahul captains Lucknow Super Giants (LSG), who suffered three defeats in a row and are teetering on the edge. After a particularly humiliating defeat, by 10 wickets, to Sunrisers Hyderabad, team owner Sanjiv Goenka, visibly enraged, was seen having some very stern words with Rahul. A businessman being angry following a night of ignominy — in business parlance, a zero sale day — is not unheard of. It was a zero sale day for LSG, who subsided to 165/4 in 20 overs and then conceded 166 in merely 9.4. Rahul’s contribution was an extremely unpurposeful 29 off 31 balls.

The man is capable of smashing 50 off just 14 balls — indeed, he did just that six years ago; how could he, then, be so tortoise-like in a T20 game? Then again, you could well ask: ‘How could Bradman be out for 0 in his last innings?’

In the answer to these questions lies the beauty of sport — unpredictability, unrepeatability is sport’s essence. T20 cricket — Cricket Lite, in which professionals play the way amateurs do — is often likened with WWE entertainment. But the comparison has no basis, for even Cricket Lite is sport while WWE is scripted antics with great athleticism — impressive, but unreal, false.

The brevity of a T20 contest makes it very, very competitive — contests often turn into last-over or penultimate-over shootouts. In T20Is, Afghanistan can upset West Indies, Zimbabwe can trump Pakistan and Australia, Ireland can dump England — even amateurs from Hong Kong can beat Bangladesh! Such results would be unthinkable in five-day cricket.

The corporate world’s salary-performance paradigm — imperative, even — can’t work in sport. Team owners must realise this. Sport is business, but playing sport isn’t engaging in business — in it, your competitor is physically trying to prevent you from doing what you’ve set out to do; this doesn’t happen in business.

In 2008, during the first IPL, another Rahul — former India captain, no less! — was publicly harangued by his IPL team’s owner, who happened to be an enthusiastic inexpert of cricket, Vijay Mallya. Rahul Dravid’s team, Royal Challengers Bangalore, hadn’t been doing well. After a bad evening, Mallya was photographed with his arm around Dravid’s shoulders, explaining, perhaps, some intricacies of the sport to his team’s captain. Dravid bore a shell-shocked expression, almost as if he’d seen a ghost.

After sacking the team CEO, Mallya said: “At the end of the day, people need to understand that the IPL has a corporate side to it, and a very definitive corporate side. It is not at all cricket in the traditional sense.” That’s correct, but what Mallya failed to understand is that because it’s not traditional cricket, he must not expect the certitude of traditional results from it — the better team will not always win a T20 contest.

On the Goenka haranguing — ‘robust discussion’, in the words of coach Lance Klusener — of KL Rahul, Virender Sehwag offered wise counsel: businessmen must let cricketers be. “These are all businessmen. They only understand profit and loss,” Sehwag said. “But here (IPL), there is no loss, so what’s bothering them? You are earning (Rs )400-crore profit. I mean, this is a business where you (team owners) have to do nothing at all. You have guys to take care of that. And irrespective of what happens, you are earning profit!”

In early 2009, this writer tried to persuade Mallya that T20 cricket is akin to a lottery — the margin of victory or defeat is wafer-thin, and it often boils down to luck. Mallya, though, wasn’t willing to be convinced. With big money comes big ego, too — having spent hundreds of crores in buying a franchise and creating a team, who wishes to accept that it’s a game of chance?

Cricketers, though, know full well that Test cricket is the toughest format of the sport. It’s Test performances they really value. Sourav Ganguly, former captain, said last November: “If you play more T20 cricket, you will remain mediocre. I always say ‘play T20s, make money from T20s’, but if you want to be a player, you have to play four-day, five-day cricket.”

Dale Steyn, South African pace great, said after IPL 2008: “The IPL was only four overs a game and it was like a paid holiday. You only had to work if you felt like it, which is probably why we finished second last.”

But if you’re making a few crores for bowling four overs in a few games, you would be an idiot if you admit it. Steyn later did say he had been an idiot: “I was trying to be funny and ended up being stupid — I was an idiot.”

The IPL’s real value lies in the fact that rubbing shoulders with the world’s best cricketers gives even greenhorns courage and conviction; and it has given money and fame to cricketers who would have otherwise remained anonymous, playing in empty stadiums all their life. But it must never be forgotten — by both Rahuls and others — that the one who makes you fabulously rich will also own a part of you and won’t be shy to show that.

#Cricket #IPL #KL Rahul

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