The beginning of the end of Test cricket is here

SARATH CHANDRAN writes from Bangalore: It is not without irony that the announcement by the English Premier League of plans to play an extra round of fixtures abroad should come so soon after the launch of cricket’s Indian Premier League.

As testament to modern sport’s impending submersion into the quagmire of opportunistic capitalism, no finer instances can be had than these. Yet the sheer brazenness with which these ‘revolutionary concepts’ are introduced, the ludicrous explanations of the need for these monstrous afflictions and the final realization of the ultimate greed driving them leaves one gasping for air.

Economists and business-people exclaim that it’s been coming for ages and then proceed to sound off about demand and supply, the quality of the ‘product’ and maximization of revenue.

A ‘product’?

To those guiding it’s destiny today, sport it appears, is no different from toilet paper or a sharp knife. It is a product, to be bunged into boxes, marketed and sold in whichever way as to maximize profit. Beautiful, capricious, uplifting sport is being methodically, mercilessly squeezed, it’s essence collected, adulterated and sold by the bottle.

So who stands to gain the most?

Fairly obvious, really. Let us look at the case of the Indian Premier League. The common cricket fan is by no means a stakeholder in this venture. The only cricketers who stand to make a sizable packet are the already grossly overpaid ‘superstars’ of the Indian team and the handful of foreign imports. But mostly the cash generated will serve only to further inflate the bursting coffers of the BCCI and a handful of individuals who are scarcely in dire need of the stuff.

And what of the effect on the game itself? If the IPL grows as the ‘all knowing ones’ predict and the BCCI throws some of its loose change at the other cricket boards, it could well take up most of the cricketing calendar. Money will dictate that all cricketers become Twenty20 specialists and Test cricket will be given a swift burial, mourned by all.

The character of the game will irrevocably change and, in a decade, flashing lights, bright colours, wildly swinging bats, three-hour games could well be all that cricket will be reduced to.

And what price the English premier football league? Predictably, a very stiff one. It is the most successful football league in the world (here read success = $$$$) whose revenue figures move steeply upwards every year. Apparently not steeply enough. Hence the contemptibly absurd idea of playing an extra round of matches outside the British isles.

Any pretence that this idea is about anything other than money is ridiculous in the extreme. Again in this case, the only people who stand to make any substantial gains are the premier league and particularly its big clubs. None of the club’s fans back home will see a dime and football in England below the premier league will remain entirely unaffected.

So then, if they start playing one fixture abroad, why not two? Then again, five is a good figure. Heck, why not just call yourselves “The Scudamore Circus” and hit the road. One night in Tokyo, the next in New York! Of all the nonsensical dim-witted plots ever hatched, this one’s numero uno. Thankfully it seems football’s governing bodies still maintain some vestiges of sanity and have opposed the idea. So maybe the circus won’t be rolling into town after all.

It is of course essential that people involved in sport full-time make a decent living out of it. But when the primary purpose of sport becomes monetary gain, things go too far. It’s a thin line between the sufficient and the excessive which we would do well to stay within.

For by crossing it, we rob sport of its considerable glory and leave ourselves much poorer for it, whatever anyone’s bank balance may say.

Cartoon: courtesy E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express