June 21, 2008

Cricket on speed

I actually wrote this essay nearly two months ago. It went on air only yesterday. (Some have had trouble with this link, so I'm appending the text below).

One of the points it makes is about the so-called coming of market forces to cricket. I'm hardly glad to note that nothing has changed.

***

Moment from the cricket match between the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Kings on April 23: Harbhajan Singh, playing for the Indians, runs out Matthew Hayden, playing for the Super Kings. This is what the play-by-play man on a cricket website types: "Ironically, Hayden is dismissed by his nemesis!"

What's this about, you ask? (You mean some of you actually don't know?) Earlier this year, Singh was playing for India in Australia. An on-field confrontation between Singh and the Aussies inflamed partisan tempers, particularly in India. It didn't help that Hayden, an Australian star, went on a Brisbane radio show to call Singh an "obnoxious weed"; nor that Singh told a Delhi paper that Hayden was a "big liar". And now we cricket fanatics watch like hawks as Messrs Weed and Liar, signed up for major bucks in the planet's newest and glitziest cricket league, go at each other.

Sidelights and subtexts: only two of the charms of the cricket extravaganza known as the Indian Premier League.

Cricket has been due a shakeup. Thirty years ago -- when the classic five-day Test game got stale -- was the last time it got one. Aussie media tycoon Kerry Packer promoted one-day games for big money, attracting the world's best players to his league. That revolution spread quickly. The skills the one-day version demands enlivened the five-day game, and now we are used to the two forms co-existing, if sometimes uncomfortably. But the one-day game has become tired and predictable too: last year's stultifying World Cup was a nadir for the sport.

Enter the latest form, Twenty20, in which cricket has finally caught up with baseball. Three hours of frenzy and cricketing mayhem and you have a result. Tests do not always produce a winner, but they have nuance, strategy, even beauty. I remember an American friend's reaction after I took him to a match here in Bombay. The players, he wrote to his wife, performed "with ballet-like precision." Fans like me, passionate about such classic virtues, search for them in the three-hour game, but in vain. Instead, Twenty20 match reports are filled with words like "bludgeon", "biff", "whack" and "whip." No nuance there.

Twenty20 does have cheerleaders, though; one team has actually flown in the Redskins' ladies. Glamour like that, cricket has never seen. Yet the girls have quickly woken up to some realities of India. A front page Hindustan Times report says they are devastated "by the obscenities and lewd propositions targeted at them by Indian spectators." Besides, some politicians have objected to their "wild dancing", which "goes against the grain of our tradition and culture."

Meanwhile on the TV in front of me, the camera lingers longingly on dancing waists, bare backs and heaving breasts. Just another Bollywood song giving expression to our culture, pay no attention.

Hypocrisy over cheerleaders apart, Twenty20 is a game that could have been tailor-made for India in the 21st. The cricket world's biggest audience is here, which means the big money is no longer in England or Australia, but here. The slam-bang pace of the game fits the self-image of a country rapidly on the rise but impatient with old certainties, brash and self-confident but unabashedly hedonistic. Add to the cricket a substantial dose of Bollywood celebrity -- Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta own two IPL teams -- plenty of cheerleader cleavage and regular dabs of controversy. What you get is the IPL, dominating newsprint and TV screens all over India through April and May.

Given the hype, you might think the IPL pioneered Twenty20 in India. Yet it is actually the second such league in India, and was dreamed up as a response to the first. That first is the Indian Cricket League, which in 2007 put together a similar cocktail of foreign and Indian players, plenty of colour, franchises and high salaries. Even before the IPL got off the ground, the ICL had conducted two tournaments. They attracted eyeballs, but nothing like on the scale of the IPL. And somewhere in there is a story about India too.

Both leagues have sent player salaries through the roof. For playing between 14 and 16 matches over six weeks, big name IPL players like Tendulkar, Dravid and Dhoni, as well as some foreign stars, will earn over a million dollars. Sure, these numbers are not up there with the multi-million salaries common in American sports, at least not yet. Besides, for these top players this kind of money is not new. Endorsements alone earn them plenty. The Twenty20 leagues are really a godsend for lesser players, young men stuck in the penurious backwaters of the domestic game who will never make it to the Indian team. For the first time, they can earn something reasonable for their talents. It was that promise with which the ICL attracted swathes of young Indian cricketers, and the IPL games have already showcased more.

Nor is this a story restricted to India. Shane Bond, a fine bowler from New Zealand, signed with the ICL for $600,000, three times his salary from New Zealand Cricket. At 32, with a young family to support, he could hardly turn down money like that. His countrymate Brendon McCullum, who set the IPL alight with an incandescent batting performance on opening night, admitted in an interview that his life "changed forever" on the February day that the Kolkata IPL franchise, owned by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, bid $700,000 for him. "It was a huge moment for me," he said. "[Now I can] focus on getting the job done [on the field] rather than having to worry about the financial ins and outs."

Cricket watchers have hailed money like this as the triumph of the market, finally at work in cricket. "As this market matures," wrote Amit Varma, 2007 winner of the Bastiat Prize, "we will come closer to finding out the true value of players." The IPL, he thinks, "is a huge step forward for cricket."

Really? For signing with the ICL, Shane Bond has been banned from playing for New Zealand -- or anywhere else his true value might be appreciated -- ever again. The same for others in the ICL. No such bans apply to IPL signees. Why? Because only the IPL, and not the ICL, is sanctioned by the International Cricket Council, the sport's governing body. It is also the brainchild of the Indian cricket board, the world's richest and thereby most powerful. Evidently, it is not averse to arm-twisting less wealthy boards like New Zealand Cricket into penalizing players who sign with the competition. It has even the press referring to the ICL as an "unauthorized" league populated by "rebels".

Here's an organization that actively works to stomp competition -- the very essence of the market -- but still attracts applause for being the market-driven shot in the arm that cricket needed, for being "a huge step forward for cricket." That's how starry-eyed the IPL has left some of us.

The same website carried a preview of Harbhajan Singh's next match. "Look for needle," it prompted readers, between him and S Sreesanth, an IPL opponent but a long-time mate on the India team. Sure enough, when the game ended Singh slapped Sreesanth. Sreesanth covered his face and bawled. Singh was punished by banning him from the rest of the IPL tournament. We cricket fanatics watch like hawks.

34 comments:

Rahul Siddharthan said...

One reason I did not follow the IPL was precisely the BCCI's treatment of the ICL, including one of the world's best current bowlers and one of India's greatest ever cricketers.

More than the BCCI (which nobody ever had any respect for), I'm disappointed in the other national boards and the ICC for cravenly caving to their demands. Money talks. I really hope a court in India or elsewhere smacks down the BCCI and ICC, hard, for anti-competitiveness.

NightWatchmen said...

Going through your essay, specially the section on test cricket reminded me of a dinner that I had with a friend after a long time. The interesting thing is that both of us played together while in school and so the conversation quite quickly turned to cricket. Thing to note was that all the knocks/spells that we talked about were almost always from test cricket. So when you talk of nuance it rang a bell in me.

And the "writes for his supper in Mumbai" at the end was a nice touch!

amit varma said...

Nice piece, Dilip. But when I described the IPL as "a huge step forward", I did not claim that it was a panacea, or that it would solve the problems of India's cricket. I've written numerous pieces about how the Indian cricket market is a monopsony, in that cricketers have a limited market for their talents, and the BCCI functions as a monopoly. This is deplorable, but given that condition, the IPL achieves a lot.

Most importantly, it increases choice and opportunity for both players and viewers. Without the IPL, young men like Manpreet Gony and Swapnil Asnodkar might never have got their due, and Siddharth Trivedi and Ashok Dinda would have earned less in their career than in one season of the IPL. This is surely a good thing, and my contention simply is that Indian cricket is far better off with the IPL than without.

Also, for what it's worth, the IPL was conjured up long before the ICL, and was not a reaction to it. Lalit Modi's been talking about it since the 90s, and around four or five years ago Bindra spoke about it when I chatted with him in Mohali, well before the Pawar-Bindra-Modi takeover of the BCCI. Of course, the ICL did catalyze the BCCI into action, which shows the merit of competition, and like you, I wish the ICL could thrive and not be strong-armed out of existence. But if we cannot have a perfect world, we should at least celebrate improvements, which the IPL is in my humble view.

Also, I feel you do T20 cricket a disservice by saying it lacks nuance, but let's leave that discussion for another time!

amit varma said...

In fact, Dilip, here's my interview of Bindra, from three years ago, in which he speaks of his and Modi's plan for an IPL-like cricket league. See point 4.

Sidhusaaheb said...

Even the match fees for playing in domestic tournaments like the Ranji Trophy have been increased substantially, post-ICL.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Amit,

As I indicate in the article, I welcome the coming of money and opportunity to players like Gony and Asnodkar. Besides, when else would guys like these have got to play against greats like McGrath and Warne? Of course Indian cricket is better off with the IPL, precisely for these reasons.

If the IPL was thought up before the ICL, good for Bindra and whoever else. What happened is that the ICL hit the stadiums first. Not that it matters, really.

So anyway, on these two counts I have no real argument.

I'm glad you pointed out that Indian cricket is/was a monopsony. Nevertheless, what's happening now, clearly, is that the BCCI is trying to be a monopoly in Indian cricket; and to the extent that it has "banned" cricketers for signing with ICL, it is succeeding in that effort. In other words, cricketers still have a limited market -- the IPL -- for their talents: which is exactly what you deplore in the monopsony situation.

This is such a fundamental undermining, or subversion, of competition and the free market that it amazes me that supporters of the free market would applaud it anyway.

If a vegetable vendor at the local market used strongarm tactics to drive out other vendors, every free market champion I know would deplore that -- even if this vendor offered buyers superb veggies. When the IPL does exactly the same thing in T20, it should be "celebrated". I don't understand. It makes me wonder how many of us truly understand free markets to begin with. Certainly I don't.

Celebrate the rewarding of talent, yes. Call this a triumph of markets, no thanks. This is just the bully in the china shop.

As for nuance. I enjoy T20: I was at the edge of my seat through the WC in SA last year. I just think a closely fought Test offers so much more.

amit varma said...

"This is such a fundamental undermining, or subversion, of competition and the free market that it amazes me that supporters of the free market would applaud it anyway."

Dilip, of course this undermines free markets, but which free market supporter has applauded it? In my own pieces on the subject, I have time and again condemned the BCCI for it.

There are two separate issues here: The IPL, and the BCCI's monopolistic behaviour.

On the first, free markets supporters like myself see reason to praise the IPL because it increases choice and opportunity.

On the second, we repeatedly deplore the BCCI's strong-arm tactics, and wish the ICL could somehow survive and provide stronger competition.

These are two separate issues. To praise the IPL is not the same as saying that the BCCI is a worthy organisation or that their disgusting conduct otherwise is justified.

As for the nuance in T20, let me put it like this: I find a lot of nuance in other sports that last less than three hours or up to that much, such as soccer or hockey or tennis. I love cricket and believe it offers just as much nuance in that much time as those sports do. Now, you and I may still prefer Test cricket because there is much more possibility for drama on that relatively epic scale, but to paint T20 as a sport without nuance is, to my mind, unfair. It has as much scope for nuance and drama as do soccer or hockey etc, in my humble view.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Amit:

which free market supporter has applauded it?

You: "the bottomline is, the IPL will bring competition and the rules of the market into cricket - and that can't be bad ... I think that the IPL is a huge step forward for cricket."

it increases choice and opportunity.

Not for Shane Bond and Ambati Rayudu and so many others who have signed with the ICL, and anyone else who contemplates it. In fact, it actively works to kill choice for them. You can even argue that it kills choice for those who sign with the IPL itself -- because if they try to get a better deal elsewhere, they will face the same "ban" that Bond and Rayudu have had slapped on them.

This is no free market, it is a fancy-dress monopoly.

we repeatedly deplore the BCCI's strong-arm tactics.

Not deplored here, at any rate.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Amit: you say
"In my own pieces on the subject, I have time and again condemned the BCCI for it" (i.e. its subversion of competition via its treatment of ICL.

Links? A Google search reveals only eight pages on your site mentioning the ICL, and only this one seems to refer to the BCCI's treatment of the ICL. While calling it "crass" you say "I’m afraid no easy solutions exist." and, essentially, seem to be arguing that the BCCI is within its rights.

I disagree. To ban players, at all levels, who have been "associated" with ICL; to impose this policy on other countries; to terminate the pensions of former players like Kapil Dev, is all not just reprehensible but, I hope, legally actionable. I am not a lawyer but if it comes to court I think the BCCI would lose: it's preventing people from plying their trade. Reliance cannot refuse to employ somebody on the grounds that they have previously worked for Essar, and in any case cricketers are (for the most part) not employees of the BCCI. It's not about accountability to shareholders or taxpayers, as you suggest. It's about fair practices.

To praise the IPL while criticising the BCCI seems, to me, a bit like praising rebel tours in the South Africa of the 1980s while criticising apartheid. Or praising Sivakasi firecrackers while criticising child labour. Perhaps some people are comfortable with the dichotomy, though.

Ramki said...

I've written numerous pieces about how the Indian cricket market is a monopsony.

May I kindly know how many is numerous?

The 1rst time I read "monopsony" in connexion to criket was after World Cup last year, by Nirajan Rajyadhaksha in Mint. (link). Some days after that you use the word in one article in rediff mentioning Rajyadhaksha, and one year later you used again in another article in cricinfo but not attributing Rajyadhaksha.

Is 2 = "numerous"?

amit varma said...

Dilip, you claimed that a free market supporter had applauded the BCCI's monopolistic behaviour, I asked you who, and you said I did, quoting words from me praising the IPL. As I said in my last comment, these are two separate issues! If you insist on conflating them, what can I say?

I stand by every word I wrote praising the IPL, and my contention is that Indian cricket is better off with it than without it.

I also stand by every word I've written condemning the BCCI and its monopolistic behaviour, over a period of years, in the now-offline Wisden.com, on Cricinfo and on my blog. I hardly find the need to provide links to them all, but this is a representative one, where I also expressed my hope that the ICL would succeed.

To link to my piece praising the IPL and asking why I didn't criticize the BCCI there is besides the point -- that piece was about the IPL alone. You won't find anything by me praising the BCCI's monopolistic behaviour, or its treatment of the ICL, anywhere.

As for Shane Bond and Ambati Rayudu, I agree with you, the way the BCCI is ruining their careers is disgraceful. What does that have to do with the IPL?

As I wrote in my first comment, the IPL is not a panacea, it is not going to solve every problem of Indian cricket. It has increased choice and opportunity for many people, but it won't for some. It is still better than nothing, though. Much better.

It seems to me that you have misinterpreted my praise for the IPL as praise for the BCCI. I hope my comments here have brought some clarity on where I stand.

Rahul, much as I am repelled by the BCCI's actions, I am afraid that they will stand in a court of law. I say this because interested parties have considered suing the BCCI for restraint of trade and have backed out after legal advice that they would not succeed in court. I am privy to those discussions, and am not doing armchair speculation here. We can discuss this offline if you wish.

And for what it's worth, to use your analogy, Reliance can hire or not hire whoever it feels like. If it doesn't want to hire people who have worked for Essar, it is within its rights to not do so. An Essar employee thus rejected would have many options; a cricketer like Rayudu doesn't because the BCCI is a virtual monopoly. This is a lousy situation, but I don't see any easy solutions. Do you?

Also, we can agree to disagree on your contention that just because we deplore some of the BCCI's actions, we cannot praise it when it does some things right. If they do something right, I will have good things to say about it. And the other way around.

amit varma said...

Also, I have to say I'm a little amused (and flattered!) by all this Google searching for what I've written on the subject. Is this about me or the BCCI? :)

Dilip D'Souza said...

Amit,

I think I get the point: you are trying to maintain a distinction between the IPL and the BCCI. So when I deplore the BCCI's attempts to make the IPL a monopoly, and am amazed that you would applaud it by saying "the IPL will bring competition and the rules of the market into cricket", you point out that I'm conflating the two, meaning conflating the IPL and the BCCI.

Fair enough. If you see them as separate, fine, and now that I've understood that you see them that way, your comments make sense.

But here's the thing: I don't see them as separate. (Not that it should matter, but I think a lot of people don't see them as separate either). To start with, the BCCI dreamed up and ran the IPL from beginning to end. Lalit Modi, head of the IPL, is himself a BCCI employee. I'll return to that in a sec.

When you say "the IPL will bring competition and the rules of the market into cricket", my immediate thought is, hello, what did the IPL do to the players who joined the ICL? In what sense is that "competition and the rules of the market"? Modi and his IPL are simply stamping out competition, that's all. (Which, admittedly, lots of market players attempt to do anyway -- seen like that, perhaps it is the rule of the market).

You would respond to that by saying it isn't the IPL doing that to the ICL players, it is the BCCI. (Am I right?).

OK, so let's say it is the BCCI doing it. Why did the IPL, being the separate entity you see it as, not object? I didn't hear the IPL saying something like: "We want free market conditions to prevail, and that means we welcome competition in the form of the ICL. We won't stand for banning ICL players."

Far from it. Lalit Modi, the most visible IPL official, and also its chairman and commissioner, is himself the most voluble about banning ICL players. What should we make of the head of the IPL, no less, saying about the Champions' Cup only 10 days ago: "Only teams that have no ties at all with ICL players will be invited... others are automatically disqualified."

When the head of the IPL says this, please explain why I must turn around, as you do, and point the finger at the BCCI, and thereby exonerate the IPL.

You say you've "written condemning the BCCI and its monopolistic behaviour", and that "You won't find anything by me praising the BCCI's monopolistic behaviour, or its treatment of the ICL, anywhere." But it's the head of the IPL who's the champion of this monopolistic behaviour that you condemn. Please explain why his behaviour should be termed the BCCI's behaviour, thereby exonerating him and his IPL.

No, I'm still amazed that supporters of the free market, you for instance, would actually call this crude attempt at creating a monopoly anything but what it is: a crude attempt at creating a monopoly. Nothing to do with free markets.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Rahul, just to say that I don't think the Reliance/Essar example holds. There's nothing to prevent Reliance from hiring or not hiring whoever they wish. I have personal experience of something like this: a company I once worked for had had a poor experience with several hires from a particular university. So they took a decision not to hire anyone from that university for a period of several years.

Gaurav said...

As I wrote in this post of mine last month, not only do I think the IPL is not liberalization or ushering of market forces into cricket, it is actually the opposite. It has made the BCCI's stranglehold even tighter and is as un-capitalistic as I can imagine.

Amit, yes, the IPL has increased the "choice" for some players. But it has also trampled upon the rights of an equal number of other people. Given that both IPL and ICL are vying for the same market, I find it difficult to separate the two issues. Considering that the BCCI is strong-arming the competition and the little guys who work for it, the choice offered by the IPL is a trivial and is in fact a faux-choice.

In fact IPL smacks of license-permit-quota-ism. If you buy the "licenses" from the powers that be, then you can compete in a limited field.

Market forces can come into play only if there are zero entry barriers. And the BCCI has erected such huge artificial entry barriers, that any choice arising therefrom is meaningless.

Gaurav said...

To use one of Ford's old famous adlines, the choice from IPL is the "any color as long as it is black" sort of choice. Choice, as long as it is on BCCI's terms.

amit varma said...

"Fair enough. If you see them as separate, fine, and now that I've understood that you see them that way, your comments make sense"

Dilip, thanks, we can agree to disagree on that point. One more thing I'd like to clarify, in case it has come across otherwise: When I say that the IPL and the BCCI are separate issues, I don't mean that they are separate entities. Rather, I see the IPL as an initiative by the BCCI that I agree with. I disagree with most others, as I've already said, and my support of the IPL should not imply otherwise.

Modi being both BCCI bigwig and IPL commissioner is irrelevant here -- I'm just saying that the BCCI has done a great thing by bringing the IPL to life. It does not mean that it is otherwise a good organisation, or that its other actions, especially with regard to the manner in which it is toying with the livelihood of players like Rayudu, is not utterly reprehensible.

I'm also not sure why you refer the the creation of the IPL as "this crude attempt at creating a monopoly." The BCCI is already a monopoly, has been one since it began. Within that monopolistic system, it has begun this competition that increases choices and opportunities for whoever is already in that system. That's what I'm applauding. That it keeps some people out of this system, and misuses its monopolistic power, is unambiguously wrong.

Gaurav, if you ever run into Asnodkar or Gony or Dinda or Mishra, you tell them that "the choice offered by the IPL is ... trivial." I personally know cricketers whose lives have been transformed by the IPL (and the ICL, for that matter), and that is a big deal.

And while I again reiterate that the IPL isn't a panacea, one quick question: Is Indian cricket better off with or without the IPL? Without taking other things into consideration, just answer that question with a 'yes' or a 'no'.

Anonymous said...

AS Yadav is known to be a regular for hyderabad because of his dad and not his talent. He was one of the reasons Ambati Rayudu lost hopes with BCCI run first class cricket and joined the ICL.
Another Yadav with all his experience got grandfathered in to play for Delhi Daredevils.

Now if Ambati Rayudu had not joined ICL would the free market system have helped him get opportunities according to his talent or do you think BCCI well wishers would still have their way? Amit, if you run into Rayudu tell him the IPL is a fair system and the opportunities are indeed nontrivial.

S Badrinath, Piyush Chawla etc. have been known to have talent good enough for the national team. The visibility that Goni and others have got is similar. No one knows if any of these people will be utilized. If people had watched first class cricket in India the recognition would have been similar.

Other than making a lot of money and experience playing alongside international players nothing changes for Indian cricketers. Longevity of the new people will be determined only after two seasons when their shortcomings are exposed.

amit varma said...

"Now if Ambati Rayudu had not joined ICL would the free market system have helped him get opportunities according to his talent or do you think BCCI well wishers would still have their way?"

Well, Gony plays for Punjab and the Mohali franchise didn't select him, but Chennai did. And I'm certain someone or the other would have picked Rayudu up. That's the way the incentives are aligned, and when the bottomline comes into play, politics is reduced.

"Other than making a lot of money and experience playing alongside international players nothing changes for Indian cricketers."

Well, that's a lot of change to start with! Given the impoverished existence domestic cricketers have led, the IPL (and the ICL) are a great leap ahead. It increases the odds of a talented young player making a living from the game, and my guess is that it will influence the decisions of young age-group players across the country about to make career choices.

At any rate, it's certainly an improvement on the status quo.

Anonymous said...

Amit,
by all this Google searching for what I've written on the subject. Is this about me or the BCCI? :)

Ramki wanted to clear his misconception that you had not written anything on the subject. So the google search was only about himself. The universe, unfortunately, does not revolve around you. :)

(By doing Google-search he was only following the master's idea of investigative journalism.)

Anonymous said...

Well, Gony plays for Punjab and the Mohali franchise didn't select him, but Chennai did. And I'm certain someone or the other would have picked Rayudu up.

Why did Bengal or Punjab pick Rayudu for their Ranji team? I really doubt if he would have been picked by any team in the IPL given the BCCI favoritism and strong arm tactics.

If they could force a team to sign on a player with zero experience and sign another player for his father. If BCCI can force other boards to ban players, it does not take much imagination to see rayudu's future.

Are you saying he would have been picked by some side because of your inside knowledge? Given the evidence, from the outside, your suggestion appears too naive, dont you think?

amit varma said...

"Why did Bengal or Punjab pick Rayudu for their Ranji team? I really doubt if he would have been picked by any team in the IPL given the BCCI favoritism and strong arm tactics."

If you don't think there's a difference between first-class cricket and the IPL, in the way that the team management's incentives are linked to their financial survival in the latter, and if you don't understand how these incentives reflect on the team owners' decisions, well, that's your prerogative!

Dilip D'Souza said...

Amit,

For no reason I can discern, you seem determined to dig yourself into a deeper and deeper hole, instead of nipping it in the bud right at the start. But since you are thus determined:

* You asked: "As for Shane Bond and Ambati Rayudu, I agree with you, the way the BCCI is ruining their careers is disgraceful. What does that have to do with the IPL?"

What does that have to do with the IPL? It's the chief of the IPL who, in his capacity as such chief, initiated and persists with the ban that is "ruining their careers", and has done so precisely because they joined the IPL's competition, and you ask what that has to do with the IPL?

* You said: "I see the IPL as an initiative by the BCCI that I agree with."

But you've also said that you have "condemned the BCCI's monopolistic behaviour", not once but "time and again". It's the BCCI's initiative, the IPL, that's indulging in that monopolistic behaviour. You both "condemn" it ("time and again") and "agree with" it?

* You said: "Modi being both BCCI bigwig and IPL commissioner is irrelevant here."

Why? It is Modi, the chief of the IPL, who has banned "rebel" players; who is actively subverting the very free market system that you applaud the IPL for bringing into cricket. It's in his capacity as IPL head that he does so. Since you want to condemn the BCCI instead for doing it, I remind you that he is also a BCCI official and is doing it in that capacity too. You say this is "irrelevant"? How so?

* You said: "The IPL increases choice and opportunity" for many people.

Certainly it has. But it seems to me the money and opportunity that has come the way of the Asnodkars and Gonys, while wonderful for them, is small potatoes (and I don't mean financially) compared to the IPL's efforts to muscle out its competition.

Take my veggie vendor example. Flush with money, I go to the local market and set up a stall selling absolutely first-rate vegetables. I hire several home-delivery boys, whom I pay well. At the same time, I also hire bouncers to openly threaten my competitors into quitting the local market. My bouncers also arm-twist every other veggie vendor in Bombay into declaring publicly that they will never hire anyone who has worked for my competitors, and in fact to declare that my competitors are "rebels" and "unauthorised". I myself announce the same things.

What will a true fan of the free market do, I wonder. Applaud me for my excellent veggies and for the good salaries I pay my home-delivery boys? Or condemn me for all I am doing to subvert the very essence of what the fan holds dear -- the free market?

What will a true fan of the free market do, I wonder. Applaud the IPL for the excellent salaries it paid its cricketers like Gony? Or condemn the IPL for all it is doing to subvert the very essence of what the fan holds dear -- the free market?

What is the true indicator of someone's free market leanings? The salaries they pay their employees? Or their efforts to kill the competition?


There is more. I'm baffled by your increasing painful attempts to carefully avoid any criticism of the IPL. I anticipate, though with zero pleasure, more digging.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Dilip, Amit: well, I don't know what Indian courts would say about restraint of trade, but from what I have been reading, this could become an issue in the UK: several counties hire or want to hire ICL players, the BCCI doesn't like it, the ECB is caught in the middle.

Regarding the Reliance/Essar analogy: all analogies are flawed but I think in most countries hiring should be non-discriminatory, and while it is hard to prove such things, if it was proven that you are discriminating against a specific group of people for reasons unrelated to their skills, you'd be in trouble.

Here's another flawed analogy: what if BSNL declared that they would be the only ones to offer international telephony, armtwisted phone companies around the world to agree, and blocked Airtel and other "rebel network" subscribers not just from connecting to BSNL's network, but from every subscribing to BSNL for the rest of their lives?

The legal issues with what the BCCI is doing are poorly explored, so far; but they're getting away with it (so far) because they have the money and clout around the world.

Amit: your argument seems to be that "bad people can do good", i.e. the BCCI (bad) can do good (IPL) and be applauded for it. I agree with Dilip that the IPL is about as anti-competitive as it can get. The only "free market" aspect I see is that rival teams can bid for players. But none of the rival teams can bid for Shane Bond: they are restricted to players in the "good books" of the BCCI. And other than that detail of how teams are constituted, where is the free market in this whole charade?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Apparently I'm a bit behind. From here: "The ECB allowed players associated with the ICL to play in their domestic circuit after it faced legal action from the league, which was backed by the country's strong trade laws that protects the rights of individuals."

Given that New Zealand probably has similar laws to England, I would have hoped that Shane Bond could have threatened legal action there too, even if no such action is possible in India (and I'm not convinced about the latter). The BCCI may be able to say (for now) "We don't need England", but if other countries were to select ICL players citing legal inability to exclude them, the BCCI would find itself in a difficult position. But such a stance from other countries, while requiring less spine than a principled stance, still requires some spine, and I don't expect it to happen.

amit varma said...

Dilip, you seem determined to create a hole around me when there is none. Still, since you like me so much, here we go!

"It's the chief of the IPL who, in his capacity as such chief, initiated and persists with the ban that is "ruining their careers", and has done so precisely because they joined the IPL's competition, and you ask what that has to do with the IPL."

Dilip, Lalit Modi banned the ICL dudes from taking part in any BCCI-affiliated tournament well before the IPL existed, around the time the ICL began, as a BCCI bigwig. This ban was because of the politics between the BCCI and Zee, and because the BCCI wasn't getting a cut of proceedings. That the IPL is competition to the ICL is moot here, because the IPL didn't exist when the ban came about. It is a BCCI ban.

"But you've also said that you have "condemned the BCCI's monopolistic behaviour", not once but "time and again". It's the BCCI's initiative, the IPL, that's indulging in that monopolistic behaviour. You both "condemn" it ("time and again") and "agree with" it?"

The IPL is not indulging in monopolistic behaviour, it is following the rules set down by the BCCI, which is indulging in monopolistic behaviour. The IPL is just an event. It is set up within a lousy system, and it does a lot of good within that system. But blaming it for the ills of the system, and for following rules set up before it came into existence, is unfair.

"Why? It is Modi, the chief of the IPL, who has banned "rebel" players; who is actively subverting the very free market system that you applaud the IPL for bringing into cricket."

The rebel players were banned from BCCI-affiliated events before the IPL existed. Yes, Modi was a big part of that, but as a BCCI bigwig. I'm saying the IPL is not a panacea for the BCCI's ills, but it has done much good, and harmed no one (because the rebels would still be out in the cold if there was no IPL).

In fact, why not answer my earlier question in one word: Is Indian cricket better off with the IPL or without? Yes or no?

Do answer this question without taking other things into account, all of which I probably agree with you on, but are variables we can't change.

Your vegetable market analogy is wrong. The BCCI hasn't hired bouncers etc. It has simply refused to associate with people who play for rival leagues. In your analogy, you as a vendor would simply refuse to hire delivery boys who were also doing deliveries for others. The problem here is that the BCCI is the only vendor around, and delivery boys don't have choice. We both agree that's a problem. But what you're doing is akin to blaming a particular discount scheme for the other behaviour of the vendor.

Rahul, if the restraint of trade argument could stand in an Indian court, there is no question that Subhash Chandra would have sued by now, using surrogates if not Zee itself. He isn't doing it, and there is a reason for it, and all our wishing for an ideal world doesn't change that.

Let me simply say at the end, responding to both your comments, that what you refer to as the IPL's monopolistic behaviour is simply its adherence with guidelines set down for all BCCI-affiliated tournaments by the BCCI before the IPL even existed. Blaming the IPL for this is a mistake, in my humble view. It is just an event complying with existing rules, and an event that does a lot of good within those rules, though it can't obviously solve the ills of the world, such as the BCCI's basic nature, world poverty and global warming.

I think we've just about reached the stage when we've both made our arguments and can agree to disagree. Dilip, if you really wish to see me dig a hole, as a mark of my respect for you I shall land up at your home with a shovel, and you can show me to your garden. Once I've dug a hole and got inside, you can cover me up, and then lean on the shovel with satisfaction and say, "There, we've put this boy to rest. Now let us see how the IPL or the free market help him!"

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Amit -- you said earlier that "for what it's worth, the IPL was conjured up long before the ICL, and was not a reaction to it". And now you say "Lalit Modi banned the ICL dudes from taking part in any BCCI-affiliated tournament well before the IPL existed."

Are you serious? Are you even trying to be serious?

amit varma said...

"Amit -- you said earlier that "for what it's worth, the IPL was conjured up long before the ICL, and was not a reaction to it". And now you say "Lalit Modi banned the ICL dudes from taking part in any BCCI-affiliated tournament well before the IPL existed."

Are you serious? Are you even trying to be serious?"


Rahul, both statements are historically correct. The IPL as a concept existed since the 90s. The IPL as an event came into being well after the BCCI cracked down on ICL players. I'm surprised I need to spell such a basic distinction out?

I think we've both made our stands clear. You guys feel the IPL betrays free market principles; I feel it's the BCCI that runs counter to free market principles and that the IPL is a mere event organised by it that does a lot of good within the flawed system. We can agree to disagree on that, and respectfully so.

Instead, the focus of the thread seems to have shifted on proving that I'm a hypocrite of some sort, with immense parsing done of current words and past articles. (Even I don't Google myself like people have done on this thread!) That being the case, I have nothing more to contribute, as you guys have made your minds up on that. I entered this discussion in good faith, hoping we'd stick to arguing the issues involved and not get down to trying to disparage the other person. (Surely I'm not that important anyway!)

I'm assuming neutral readers will just read our comments and articles so far and make up their own minds. You can, for the rest of the thread, have the last word! :)

Dilip D'Souza said...

why not answer my earlier question in one word: Is Indian cricket better off with the IPL or without? Yes or no?

Yes.

Can we move on?

OK. Complex situations are rarely addressed with any sense by one word answers. My answer could equally well have been "no". Because if you consider "Indian cricket" as players such as Gony, Asnodkar and Yusuf Pathan, yes, it's better off with the IPL. If you consider "Indian cricket" as players such as Rayudu, Mongia and Sodhi -- if it matters, they are every bit as talented as the other three mentioned -- and the whole stranglehold the BCCI has on the game, no, it's not better off with the IPL.

Truth is, Indian cricket is all of the above. Which is why one word answers make no sense.

Besides which, of course, I would have thought that what's above was obvious from previous answers I've offered on this page before you asked your question, such as "Of course Indian cricket is better off with the IPL, precisely for these reasons", and "Celebrate the rewarding of talent, yes. Call this a triumph of markets, no thanks."

Besides which, of course, this whole discussion was not about whether Indian cricket is better off with the IPL, answerable in one word. The line in my article that prompted a mention of you was: "Cricket watchers have hailed money like this as the triumph of the market, finally at work in cricket." -- and this is why you got into this exchange.

My concern right through this discussion was hardly whether Indian cricket is better off, but whether the IPL really represents the coming of market forces to cricket. I don't look for one word answers. But yet again, given the way IPL stomps on competition, it amazes me that as passionate a free market supporter as you would praise it instead.

Speaking of questions, there are some in my previous comment that have not got answers. You'll find them in the three paras towards the end that begin with "What". I'm not interested in one word answers. I am interested in answers.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Amit: so let me see if I understand your argument now. You say:

1. The IPL has been planned for years and Modi and others have been talking about it for years when the ICL was announced.

2. When Modi announced that ICL players would be banned from BCCI tournaments, the IPL was not on his mind at all, even though he had been talking about it for years. The IPL was just collateral damage, so to speak.

3. Though the IPL was talked of for years, it was "catalyzed" into existence by the ICL, "which shows the merit of competition".

4. Though the IPL exists largely out of Modi's desire to squash the ICL, "because of the politics between the BCCI and Zee, and because the BCCI wasn't getting a cut of proceedings", it is a welcome example of a free market in action.

Hope I have it all straight now.

(PS - I love these demands that a complicated and loaded question must be answered "yes" or "no". Such as: "Have you stopped beating your wife yet, yes or no?")

Nazim Khan said...

Here are my two bits:
I think Amit is fair to praise the IPL on the ground that it helps increase choices for players.
And he has also pointed out occasions when he has criticised its parent body on its decision to stamp out IPL's competition — the ICL. Essentially, he congratulated it (the BCCI) when he thought it deserved it, and criticised it when, again, he thought it deserved it.
Asking him to provide an explanation on why a certain Ambati Rayudu didn’t get increased choices isn’t fair — when he has certainly made it clear that IPL increased choices and the market would have been even better had the BCCI not acted as a monopoly.
“Dilip: Celebrate the rewarding of talent, yes. Call this a triumph of markets, no thanks.” If Amit called the IPL a triumph of markets, he has contradicted himself by his earlier clearly stated (and perfectly fair) stand that IPL, per se, is great and the ICL should be allowed to thrive too, that that would be the triumph of markets.
Amit: When you think that Dilip does a great disservice to T20 when he says it lacks nuance is wrong, for that’s his own opinion.

Dilip D'Souza said...

I just got back here ...

Rahul, you have a point, but you will admit there's a degree of scorn and sarcasm in your last comment. Please let's put that aside. Criticize and criticize hard, but let's do it so that we stay engaged. I'm so tired of so many arguments that start OK, have some innuendo slipped in, and then descend into name-calling. I've participated in my share and not only am I tired, they get nobody nowhere.

Amit, I don't know if you're still reading this. If you are, please give up the injured feeling. You have taken a position that seems contradictory to me, primarily because I know how passionate you are about free markets. All I'm looking for is a resolution of that contradiction. Would Frederic Bastiat take the position you have, for example? After all, I seek to understand free markets and their supporters just as much as you do.

Nazim, always good to see you here. Maybe we're going in circles, I don't know. But this whole discussion grew from what Amit wrote in his article: "the bottomline is, the IPL will bring competition and the rules of the market into cricket - and that can't be bad". Like I said earlier, what the BCCI/IPL is doing seems like such an undermining of competition and the market that I am flummoxed by this claim.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

For the record, I'm supportive of free markets too.

amit varma said...

Dilip, I'm back here because of your email request to me to respond to your latest comment, and to not do so would be disrespectful. So although I believe that my comments have already addressed the questions you raised, let me have a final go at making my position clear.

Your main query is why I support the IPL when the IPL keeps players from the ICL out, which is against the principles of the free market. Here's my response, in brief:

1] Both you and I deplore the anti-competitive measures of the BCCI. However, my position is that these measures were put in place by the BCCI for BCCI-affiliated tournaments before the IPL came into being. Even if the IPL did not exist, the players playing in the ICL would still be screwed, for having rebelled against the BCCI.

2] The IPL is merely a tournament organised within a certain system. Does that system suck? Yes, and we agree on that, and we both condemn the BCCI for that. But the IPL has nothing to do with that system sucking, for it has sucked for decades, so I see no point in holding the IPL culpable for that. (That seems akin, to me, of holding the IIMs responsible for Indian's education system being so poor.)

2] Does the IPL do any good? Yes, and we both agree on that. Does it do any harm. My position is that it doesn't, because the ICL players would be screwed over anyway for rebelling against the BCCI.

3] Why does a free market supporter praise the IPL? Because the IPL, within the system it is part of, increases choice and opportunity for whoever is in that system. Will it help Ambati Rayudu? No, because it is not a panacea for the BCCI's ills. Does it harm Rayudu? No, because he would be banned from BCCI events anyway for rebelling against it.

I hope this makes my position clear. Your three questions posed earlier are moot because I disagree with the assumptions posed in them: I don't believe that the IPL is "subvert[ing] the very essence of ... the free market" or that it is trying to "kill the competition." I blame the BCCI for that. The IPL is just an event organised within an imperfect system that does a lot of good, and I don't blame it for the flaws of that system.

As I have said, we can respectfully agree to disagree on this. But I tire of a discussion when it descends into personality instead of argument, and goes into "you said this" and "you said that", with implications of hypocrisy. Like you, I have a lot on my mind and much work to finish, and would rather avoid comment threads that take that turn.

Note that I am not accusing you of that, and I know you know what I mean. I am always ready to discuss anything with you, and you have my email ID. Let me also extend an open dinner invitation to you and family, which I owe anyway!

But for this thread, I believe I've said all I can on this subject, and have nothing more to contribute.