As the league stage of the 16th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) was winding to a close on the foothills of the Himalayas in Dharamsala, Sportstar caught up with IPL Chairman and former BCCI Treasurer Arun Singh Dhumal to discuss the future of franchise cricket vis-a-vis the international calendar, the workload of Indian cricketers, and more.
As someone who is helming the IPL this season, do you have a lot of conversations with the franchises in terms of looking into the workload of Indian players?
That’s a challenge that we need to work out as a team. A player like Virat Kohli, who has taken good care of his fitness, has been playing all the formats and the IPL for many years. There are so many newcomers who have just made it into the Indian team or are on the verge of making it and are having injuries. With the kind of talent we have, they also need to know when they should take a break. But the problem is that at times they wouldn’t want to take a break because whoever takes their slot may fit into an extent where it becomes difficult for them to take back that slot. It is also very difficult for selectors to tell someone to take rest unless the player is also game for that. Workload management is very important. The players also need to understand that they need to take rest for the longevity of their careers, or they must have fitness.
What are your thoughts on IPL franchises investing in overseas leagues? Do you see that as a natural progression of where franchise cricket is headed?
I’ve been told that these franchises make money from the IPL and drain that money abroad. But we intend to make sure we create wealth for them. They are the ones who reposed faith in the BCCI when we launched the IPL, and subsequently, when we have allotted teams, they have come forward. We must make sure they get a good return on their investment. Where they are putting their investment is their choice, and we would not want to advise them. Even if they are making losses, ultimately it is helping some cricket board. If the BCCI is making a lot of money for the ICC and that money is being given to other cricket boards, so be it. If we are doing that as the BCCI and if they are doing that as franchises to further the cause of cricket, I’ll be very happy with that.
Do you see the IPL expanding to a longer window going forward, and is it possible given how the international calendar is structured for the next five to six years?
With these 10 teams that we have, we can go at best to 94 games. For these two seasons in this five-year cycle (2023–27), we’ll have 74 games. In the third season, we may go for 84 games, and subsequently, if time permits, we may go for 94 games.
How sustainable do you think a 10-team IPL is in terms of viewership, and do you see viewer fatigue setting in at any point?
The IPL has been growing with every season, and new audiences have been joining. There was hardly any interest in cricket among women, and older people thought that the Test or ODI was the best form of the game. Now that everybody has been glued to their television sets for these two months, the moment the IPL is over, they don’t know what to do in life. You can take the example of the WPL (Women’s Premier League) and the excitement surrounding it. I was there for the final in CCI, and I couldn’t make out whether it was a men’s or a women’s tournament.
A part of the reason why WPL saw such a substantial fan turnout was free tickets. Will that continue going forward?
The idea behind WPL is not to make money. Gate money doesn’t decide the fate of the tournament for us. The idea is to create heroes out of the women’s cricketers who have done a phenomenal job over the last two to three years. Once you engage the fans and they connect with their stars, it will take the tournament to a different level. If you go to a CSK or RCB game, fans are there for (MS) Dhoni or Virat. So, we want that following for all these women’s stars that we have, be it Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana, or Renuka Thakur. We want to create a fan base for all these stars.
A lot of uncapped players get lucrative contracts in the IPL, unlike those who are only playing the Indian domestic season and are not considered suitable for T20 cricket. Is bringing back the salary cap for Indian uncapped players a solution for bridging this disparity?
If somebody gets an opportunity, so be it. If he can’t make the most of it, no franchise will keep investing in him and eventually let him go. If he gets an opportunity, he should be wise enough to make the most of it. For our domestic cricketers, we have already raised the Ranji Trophy match fee from Rs. 35,000 to Rs. 60,000. We have raised the match fee for U16, U19, and the senior level. A Ranji Trophy player also gets a good amount if he plays a full season. You have to look at it in contrast with what other sportspersons are earning. People make money overnight, not only in cricket but in business too. It is up to them what to do with that money and how to take care of it. It’s the same in sports.
There are reports of overseas players signing long-term contracts with IPL franchises, which may lead to national cricket boards needing permission from these franchises so that these players can play for their countries. How true are these reports, and what is your take if such a scenario arises?
The player should give more importance to his board. It is unfortunate if this [prioritising club cricket] is happening because it is the board that is doing so much for these cricketers and running their domestic cricket. If they are getting an opportunity to make it to the Test, ODI, or T20I team, it is because of their board. You can play the IPL or any franchise league in any country, but the respect that you get when you wear the national colours is beyond any money you can make.
While the mega-auction that happens every four years creates a lot of drama, it also changes the nucleus of the team. Will we see fewer of these auctions in the future?
The teams can retain three or four players. They have to make a calculative call on who they want to retain. We have seen how not retaining Hardik Pandya, Faf du Plessis, and some other players has been a tough pill to swallow for some teams. But that is what is exciting about this tournament. A new guy comes in, takes over the reins of the team, and takes it to a different level. Who would have imagined that the Gujarat Titans would be champions in their inaugural season? This is the most interesting aspect of any sport. Till the last moment, you don’t know who is going to win and who is going to lose.