On Sunday, many casual cricket fans in Bangladesh were startled for a second or two. While surfing their TV, they came across a franchise T20 match, where a team wearing purple and gold jerseys called Knight Riders were batting.
“IPL has already started?” this question popped up in their minds.
But after a closer inspection, they realised that the team batting is not the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Kolkata Knight Riders. They were Abu Dhabi Knight Riders. And the name of the tournament is not IPL but ILT20– International League Twenty20.
However, those fans can be forgiven for their mistake as Abu Dhabi Knight Riders and its Calcuttan namesake are under the same ownership.
In fact, three out of the six teams of ILT20 are owned by IPL franchises. Other than Abu Dhabi Knight Riders, there are Dubai Capitals which is owned by Delhi Capitals and there is ‘Mumbai Indians Emirates’ a subsidiary of the Ambani Group owned IPL team Mumbai Indians.
So, IPL’s imprint in ILT20 is very hard to miss.
Still, ILT20 can’t really be called the ‘secondary IPL’, as there is another league more deserving of that title.
South Africa’s brand new franchise T20 league SA20 is currently staging its inaugural season just like ILT20.
In SA20, all six participating teams are owned by IPL franchises, earning it the moniker of the ‘watered down version’ of IPL.
The names of the teams are- Pretoria Capitals (Delhi Capitals), Durban’s Super Giants (Lucknow Super Giants), Paarl Royals (Rajasthan Royals), Johannesburg Super Kings (Chennai Super Kings), Sunrisers Eastern Cape (Sunrisers Hyderabad) and Mumbai Indians Cape Town (Mumbai Indians).
Now, the IPL model getting mimicked by other countries is nothing new, as many countries have done it in the past with varying degrees of success.
IPL franchises owning teams in other leagues is also not a new phenomenon, with Knight Riders, Punjab Kings and Rajasthan Royals owners having teams in the Caribbean Premier League.
The Knight Riders own Trinidad and Tobago Knight Riders, Punjab Kings own Saint Lucia Kings and Rajasthan Royals own Barbados Royals in the CPL.
Still, the case of SA20 and ILT20 is different and significant.
For several years, the ICC has been scheduling hardly any international matches among top international cricket teams from late March to early June. ‘Coincidentally’, this gap in international cricket coincides with the IPL window.
Last year, ICC declared the Future Tours Programme (FTP) for 2023-27, where, it conveniently kept this period mostly without any significant international matches, making the ‘IPL window’ in the international cricket calendar all but official.
The 2023 edition of the IPL is scheduled to begin on 25 March. But months before the IPL season kicks off, cricket fans are seeing IPL franchises under different names on their TV screens.
Both SA20 and ILT20 are expected to be held between January-February till 2027. On the back of these tournaments, the over two-month-long IPL season will begin.
After the IPL, the cricket world will get around a two-month break before once again they see franchises owned by IPL teams in action in the Caribbean from late August till the end of September.
So, from 2023-2027, cricket fans from around the world will see IPL-owned teams in action for six months every year.
From a domestic franchise tournament that ran for around a month, the IPL has managed to occupy half of the year through the subsidiary teams of its franchises.
This period is likely to increase even further in the future as IPL franchises are interested to buy more teams in other leagues.
IPL’s tremendous success has also caused the proliferation of franchise leagues around the world. Australia’s Big Bash League has been around since 2011 and England started its own league, ‘The Hundred’ last year.
Both these tournaments, however, are different to IPL as there every participating team is owned by the cricket board, nulling the chances of IPL franchises buying a team in those leagues.
But, just like IPL, their influence over international cricket is also gradually increasing.
In the ICC FTP for 2023-27, Australia and England don’t have too many international engagements during the BBL and The Hundred respectively, to make sure their top players compete in the league.
Previously, cricket boards in Australia and England always put international cricket first. But this is a clear indication that the two of the oldest cricketing countries are now willing to change with the times.
Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) getting more brazen in their attempts to make IPL the pinnacle of cricket, ICC bending to the pressure of franchise leagues and other big names in cricket like Australia and England also paying attention to franchise leagues- all of this hints at one thing.
International cricket, as we know it, has changed.
At its nascent stage, international cricket was about commonwealth countries taking on England, with the singular aim of defeating their former oppressor in their own game.
The concept of a World Cup to determine who is the best came much later, during the 1970s. Despite the World Cup, the bilateral series didn’t lose its charm. A bilateral series between top teams was must watch cricket.
But that has changed over the years. Now, if it’s not a rivalry like India-Pakistan or England-Australia, neutral cricket fans hardly pay any attention.
Fans are choosing to watch fast-paced T20 action with top names in cricket, over matches between international sides.
Players’ skipping international series for franchise cricket has become a common thing. Many players have taken an early retirement from international cricket to prolong their franchise career and some are refusing to sign a contract with their cricket board.
BCCI is the only top international cricket board that doesn’t allow its players to take part in franchise leagues overseas. But it is under increasing pressure to revoke that rule.
After their consistent poor showings in T20 World Cups, some experts have said that not playing franchise cricket outside of India is hampering the team’s ability.
However, India coach Rahul Dravid said BCCI shouldn’t do this as it would destroy their first-class cricketing structure, as the young players would most likely abandon longer format cricket and focus only on T20s.
Dravid’s statement exposed the hypocritical stance of BCCI. The Indian cricket board has no qualms over enticing top talents from other parts of the world with bags of money, but when it comes to their own cricketers, they are turning into cricket purists.
However, how long will BCCI’s restrictions will be enough to keep Indian cricketers from jumping ships is to be seen. Former Under-19 captain of India Unmukt Chand has already retired from Indian cricket, which has opened up the door for him to play in leagues like the BBL and BPL.
Chand could become an example for many talented Indian cricketers, who are lost in the shuffle and are unlikely to ever make it into the Indian team.
Many more are likely to follow in Chand’s footsteps and as time goes on, pressure on BCCI will also continuously increase.
With players gravitating more towards franchises, in a not so distant future, cricket could end up becoming like football. Franchise leagues could take the place of bilateral series and World Cups could be the only time when national teams get together to find out which is the best cricketing country in the world.
Such a scenario may seem too far-fetched right now for cricket fans. But cricketers willingly forgoing the chance to play for their national team to play for a team named after an area of some foreign country also seemed unthinkable just 20-odd years back. Now, it’s happening regularly.
Cricket has evolved, for better or worse, with IPL acting as the main catalyst.