Packer, IPL and Malinga

In today’s context international cricket faces a somewhat similar situation to the Kerry Packer revolution of the late seventies and early eighties where some of the top cricket stars of that era ganged up against their respective Cricket Boards and took part in Packer’s innovative style of one-day cricket played under lights which brought forth coloured clothing, white balls, black sightscreens etc, etc which drastically changed the nature of the game and its influence still continues to be felt even today.

The reason for such a switch in allegiance was the widespread view that players were not paid sufficient amounts to make a living from cricket although the Cricket Boards made a lot of money on tours. The other factor was that Packer wished to secure the exclusive broadcasting rights to Australian cricket then held by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) which refused to accept his (Channel Nine) bid. When Packer came up with the idea of organising his own series called World Series Cricket with lucrative offers for the players the lure was too much to ignore and the cream of international stars from Australia, West Indies, England, Pakistan and South Africa all signed up breaking away from the established game. Packer’s series lasted for just two years (1977-79) but it opened the doors for better payments for the players.
Kerry Packer is long dead and gone but his ghost is the Indian Premier League (IPL) which now threatens the establishment forcing international cricketers of today to decide between loyalties towards playing for their country or for the lucrative sides of the IPL.

Although the IPL has been given a window in the Future Tours Programme (FTP) Cricket Boards still find it difficult to get their players released in time for a major cricket tour. The case with Sri Lanka is purely because of the ignorance of its Cricket Board officials to inform the IPL in time that its players had to be released before a certain date to make the tour of England which was in the FTP calendar for the past four years or so.
Presently there is a tussle between the Cricket Boards of Sri Lanka and India to get the Lankan players released and the way things stand at the moment the full contingent of 16 players will not arrive in England on the first flight but in scattered form due to their IPL commitments, which is not the right way to start a tour of Old Blighty. Under a new captain the team will hardly have any time to get together as one unit before the first of a three-Test series dawns upon them.

Mind you England in the first half of their summer is not easy for any Asian team and Sri Lanka having played all their Test cricket for the past three years in the subcontinent is going to be hard-pressed adjusting to the seam and swing conditions they are going to experience there. That is one reason why it was imperative that the team in its entirety arrive in England on the due date May 11 and made maximum use of the two first-class practice matches arranged for them to get acclimatised. That is not bound to happen now with the IPL contracted players expected to arrive in England after the first tour game which leaves them with only one match to prepare themselves for the tough Test series.

The case of fast bowler Lasith Malinga is another aspect of the influence IPL wields over a player. Since being affected by a mysterious knee injury which has been later diagnosed as a “long-standing degenerative condition that needs to be carefully managed” Malinga on the advice of his doctor and team physio decided that the best course of action was for him to skip Test cricket and play only in the two limited formats (50 overs and 20 overs) if he is to sustain his international career. Malinga made himself unavailable for the Test series in England and subsequently followed it by retiring from Test cricket. He however continues to play in the IPL which could be galling for the Sri Lanka team which is going to be devoid of any potential match winning bowlers. When Muthiah Muralitharan retired from Test cricket it was thought that the onus would fall on Malinga to become the country’s main strike bowler but his decision to quit Test cricket leaves Sri Lanka like a ship without a rudder. To add insult to injury Malinga accused the Sri Lanka Cricket Board of not looking after him during the time he sustained the career-threatening injury and admitted, “Because of the IPL, I got a chance to come back to the national team. After the injury, nobody looked after me and I was not offered a contract. But thanks to the IPL I didn’t lose anything but I improved my cricket a lot. I’m saddened the way I was treated, but not disappointed.”

The IPL today is what Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket was in the late seventies and early eighties. It opens a door of undreamt of riches to cricketers which Cricket Boards cannot match with their player contracts. The players know that they can make the maximum only at the peak of their careers which sometimes can be rudely interrupted by a career-threatening injury like the one Malinga is faced with. Cricket is one sport where national recognition opens doors to financial riches and Malinga has shown the way for the rest of the world to follow.