With the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh under way, I am hopeful that the next few weeks will provide ammunition for an idea that I have been pushing for a number of years now: The expansion of the IPL into Bangladesh one way or the other.
The most obvious way in which to do this would be to let Dhaka bid for a franchise in the next application process and let economics sort it out. With a catchment area that would comprise the entire country in terms of local fan base, or even simply taking Dhaka as the focal metropolis, such a franchise would be a better bet than some that are already in the IPL.
There is no question that Dhaka and Chittagong (and possibly other locations) could fill stadiums for IPL matches, and the money to be made from merchandising and television rights, when you take into account the size of the market served, would be astronomical.
There is precedent for multi-national leagues in the NBA and MLB in the US, both of which have Canadian franchises. In fact, the short-lived ICL even had a team of Bangladeshis, the Dhaka Warriors, who performed very creditably.
We talk a lot about cross-border exchanges and Track II diplomacy, but there is nothing that would improve relations between Bangladesh and India better than the fillip the country would get to be seen to be allowed entry to something like the IPL on the same footing.
This kind of true partnership would not only boost India’s image and profile in Bangladesh, it would also help India view Bangladesh as more of an equal, something which is missing right now but vitally necessary for the bilateral relationship to flourish.
Not just Dhaka. If Colombo and Lahore or Karachi can muster up investors and security concerns can be met, then there is no reason why the doors of the IPL should not be thrown wide open to the region. But for economic reasons, Dhaka may well be the best bet.
If Jaipur can support an IPL team, then Dhaka can, too. And Dhaka should have been allowed to bid on a franchise long before either Pune or Kochi, both of which franchises have had to fold.
If full membership is off the cards, and at least as far as the 2014 season goes, it obviously is, then the IPL should certainly take the intermediate step of scheduling some IPL games in Bangladesh.
As things stand, the IPL has announced that due to Indian national elections it will be moving many first-phase games to the UAE and may move a number of the second phase games to Bangladesh.
I suspect that it would have been far more economical and would have earned far more money to move the first-phase games to Bangladesh rather than UAE, and I am sure that our infrastructure could have handled it. But it’s a start.
But it shouldn’t require elections to play a few games east of the border. In fact, in the absence of a Bangladesh-based franchise, the Knight Riders should think of the whole of the country as also comprising its catchment area, and the smart thing for them to have done would have been to cater to Bangladeshi fans long ago.
A couple of games a season in Bangladesh, arranging special packages to allow Bangladeshi fans to fly into Kolkata for a game, some promotional events here and there, and they would have been laughing all the way to the bank.
Regrettably, Shah Rukh Khan is already something of a deity in Bangladesh. A couple of promos for the Knight Riders and merchandise sales in Bangladesh would go through the roof. Given the potential numbers, a Knight Riders which consciously reached out to Bangladesh in its marketing, would be rewarded by being made the richest and most profitable IPL franchise.
But IPL remains parochial to the point of bidding on second- and third-rate Indian players over more talented Bangladeshis, and others from other smaller cricketing countries who deserve just as much of a shot and have the huge up-side of helping to expand the league’s reach and base of interest.
Bangladesh acquitted its part well in the last cricket World Cup, and here’s hoping that we can make an equal success of the T20 World Cup, our first solo foray into the hosting big-time.
Questionable beautification of the capital in advance of the tourney aside, arrangements seem to have been exemplary, and we look forward to a marvelous few weeks of the thrills and chills of T20 cricket, confident that our performance both on and off the field will do the nation proud.
The purists might sniff, and there is something undeniably brutish about the T20 format, but I find that not all the beauty and grace of the original game has been lost, T20 is still capable hosting performances of astonishing skill and fluency, to say nothing of the drama and excitement that the shorter format brings out.
T20 cricket is the distillation of the game down to its concentrated heady nectar. If test cricket is taking sips of a fine single malt, then T20 is knocking back shots of bourbon. Both have their place.