IPL vs Big Bash

Next week, the money-men and women of the Indian Premier League will assemble their crack squads for the 10th edition of the trend-setting short-format tournament. As they do so, they’ll be constantly reminded of the need to recover their competition’s former greatness. The IPL is the single biggest cricketing culture shift of the 21st century, a sweeping move towards franchises, bright colours and fireworks - both at and away from the crease. It was designed with grandeur in mind and shook world cricket to the core. But a decade on from its inception, the IPL is no longer the flat-track bully. It is no longer the dominant partner. That title currently belongs to the Big Bash - the chirpy, Australian cousin that has taken T20 cricket to the next level. Now it’s up to the IPL to figure out how they topple the young pretender. In its 10th year, the IPL is still a significant global event in the T20 calendar, still well clear of the competitions in the Caribbean, South Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the home of the format, England. But it is lagging behind the Big Bash on several fronts. Firstly… integrity. The IPL has had more than its fair scare of scandal. In fact, it’s not unfair to suggest that, in recent seasons, the league has been as much about its controversies as its cricket. Spot-fixing accusations erupted in 2012 and 2013 which tarnished the tournament’s reputation. In 2015, the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals were banned for two years for their complicity in illegal betting and match-fixing. The IPL’s founding father, Lalit Modi, was sacked in 2010 for financial wrongdoing amid claims of bribery and corruption in relation to his brainchild. There have been accusations of molestation by players, co-owners participating in post-match brawls and Test stars slapping other prominent cricketers in the face on the outfield. The competition needs to find its cricketing spirit once again… to see that the soul of a sport lies with its fans and not its potential to create extraordinary wealth. The Big Bash is braced for a corruption scandal Down Under and have prepared accordingly. Bets have increased exponentially on the tournament in recent years and illegal foreign bookmakers have created a black market - especially pitchside, where Cricket Australia’s anti-corruption unit are most fervently concentrating their efforts. It is the Big Bash’s proactive method that lifts the competition above the IPL, whose reactionary stance has left it a sitting duck for corruption. And with corruption comes a loss of integrity. Innovation, too, has stagnated in India’s premier domestic competition of late. When it arrived on screens, glitzy and glamourous, it was new and enthralling. Now, much of the gadgets around the IPL are old hat. The Big Bash has taken the matchday experience - both for spectators in the ground and TV fans at home - to a different planet. Zing bails light up the evening sky, umpire cameras give unprecedented access to the speed of decisions and reflexes of batsmen and fielders, gantry-to-crease audio connections facilitate conversations with some of the world’s top stars… it’s lively, energetic and thoroughly modern. The IPL, conversely, is ageing. Its matchdays - though often abuzz with enthusiasm in the stands - stick by much the same format as when the competition first introduced itself to the world with an almighty bang. Its TV coverage is ageing, too samey, too familiar, rarely changing. Broadcasters and franchise owners must join forces to buy into the world of T20 cricket and make it appeal to the masses once again. And that leads us to point three… the target audience. India, understandably, allowed itself to be led astray at the highest level once it realised the sheer scope of the money-monster it had created with the IPL. Its plot-lines have become ever more X-rated. In Australia, the Big Bash was only ever intended to be PG-13 and below… an evening out for families and a chance for mum and dad to show the kids how entertaining cricket can really be. That’s why the matches are shown on free-to-air television, that’s why ticket initiatives are aimed at young families, that’s why broadcasters offer package holidays to theme parks as prizes on matchdays. Cricket Australia’s example is to actually set one. The BCCI would do well to follow suit. Attendances have been exceptional at the Big Bash, where an average of more than 28,000 people watched the 32 games in the 2015-16 competition. Though the IPL is obviously well-watched, the damning observation by respected sports data analysis site ‘Sporting Intelligence’ that the tournament’s attendance figures were ‘too unreliable for inclusion’ in a study at the turn of the year speaks volumes about its current state. There is no doubting the calibre of the cricket, the distances of the sixes, the creativity of the captains or the subtle variations of the death bowlers… when you reduce the IPL and BBL to 40-over instalments of our beloved sport, then yes, they are very similar indeed. But T20 has to be about more than the nuances of the game itself. It has become the global brand to inspire the next generation of young cricketers. How far can the IPL inspire in its current form, beset as it is with corruption problems and a lack of ingenuity off the field? It has the capacity to be the best in the world again… it has the players, it has the stadiums and it most certainly has the raw emotion of the most ardent cricket fans anywhere. But that potential won’t be realised until it learns from its own mistakes and the successes of the Big Bash. Make it less about the money, more about the cricket and, most pertinently of all, make it about the children.