During a recent conversation,
Harsha Bhogle had argued the case for reworking the structure of
domestic cricket in India. Shifting to a franchise-driven model would,
he argued, bring in more revenues, improve the quality of the game, and
The problem with such suggestions is, where do you start? You can
clearly see the Utopian ideal, but you can see with equal clarity that
there is no way out of the vicious cycle the game is trapped in. The
only ones who can bring about the change are the associations — and
they are also the ones who stand to lose everything if change happens,
and thus have a deeply vested interest in maintaining the status quo
Some revolutions begin with a blood and thunder storming of the
Bastille, but more often, radical change has small beginnings, Harsha
suggested later, once the interview proper was over and we were
chatting of this and that.
He might have a point, judging by the story of the Karnataka Premier League.
For starters, it avoids the mistake the ICL made and stakes out
territory the heavy hitters have no interest in. To wit, state-level
domestic cricket which, in terms of interest, ranks even lower than the
Ranji and other national competitions.
The teams are paid for and operated by private franchises who are
prepared, for a variety of reasons, to pay to promote the sport — thus
fulfilling one of the key points of Harsha’s argument.
The league provides a crisp, focused competition; it creates a
platform — and generates additional employment — for talent that
would otherwise have gone unnoticed; it generates spectator interest
within the defined geography [8000 people for one of the games? You
don't get that for a Ranji final].
The most interesting aspect, for me, is that the KPL is an example
of how public-private partnerships can work to the benefit of both –
the IPL model, scaled down to the grassroots. While on this, I was
somewhat surprised by Anil Kumble’s reaction to the development:
The decision to go with the franchise system drew some
flak, notably from Kumble and Srinath, who both wondered why the KSCA
needed external financial support to run the league when it receives a
grant from the BCCI. Kumble was typically blunt: “In its current form,
it would allow a backdoor entry into the KSCA for people not passionate
about cricket,” he said.
Anil has one of the most balanced voices in Indian cricket, hence my
surprise at his unstated subtext: that ‘passion for cricket’ is
exclusive to those who are part of the administration.
While the lack of infrastructure in the districts
remains a problem, the KSCA realises the need to move more of the
tournament outside Bangalore, which hosted all but six of the 31 games
this season. “We are planning to go, from the next edition onwards, to
other locations in Karnataka,” Srikantadatta Wadiyar, a descendant of
the Mysore royal family and current KSCA president, says. “The idea is
to ultimately take it to the respective locations and zones [of the
The problem and solution are closely interlinked. There is no
infrastructure in the districts because they don’t get sufficient
quality cricket to require the expenditure; take cricket into the
hinterlands, and the infrastructure will follow. Additionally:
The franchises are also looking ahead to the next
season. Mangalore has announced its plans to start an academy to spot
and groom talent. Belgaum is looking at providing equipment and forming
teams within its catchment area, and holding intra-zone tournaments.
“We are committed to four tournaments a year in Belgaum,” Hoover says.
“We will club some areas together and make a team; we plan to have five
or six such teams, who will then face off against each other.”
This is the other point that Harsha mentioned — and one that
directly refutes Anil’s contention. The KSCA gets grants from the BCCI
and hence has no real interest in developing talent. Private
franchises, which put money where the association’s mouth is, are
however aware that the players are its stock in trade, and thus tend to
be more proactive.
The biggest plus of the KPL is that it provides a model — of
partnership between franchises, the official association, and the local
media — that can be transplanted to other regions. Do that, and you
have created a platform to discover and hone fresh talent, re-ignited
spectator interest at the domestic level, provided additional
employment opportunities to a whole host of players currently on the
outside of the money trough looking in, and created a feeder system for
What’s not to like?