Sunday, March 9, 2008

ICL launches T20 cricket season today

The rebel Indian Cricket League begins its second edition today (Sunday), determined to prosper despite facing a daunting battle against the official, super-rich Indian Premier League.

The ICL, bankrolled by the country's largest listed media company Zee Telefilms, organised its first Twenty20 tournament last December with a host of retired and semi-retired international stars and domestic players.

The event, held in remote Panchkula in northern India because the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) refused to release regular grounds to the rebel outfit, barely created a ripple.

Held at the same time as the official India-Pakistan home series, the tournament drew poor television ratings and big-spending sponsors kept away despite the presence of ageing stalwarts like Brian Lara and Inzamam-ul Haq.

The second edition offers little respite as the powerful BCCI moves to crush any opposition to its multi-million dollar IPL that will debut on April 18.

The first match, between the Ahmedabad Rockets, led by Australian Damien Martyn, and the Chandigarh Lions, captained by New Zealand allrounder Chris Cairns, will again be played in Panchkula.

Cricket boards around the world have banned players joining the ICL from playing official matches, a move that has irked new recruits like New Zealand fast bowler Shane Bond.

"We're professional cricketers and we should be able to play anywhere and for anyone,"
said Bond, who will play for Delhi Jets in the month-long, 10-team competition.

"I'm just disappointed that players are getting banned. I just don't think that is fair. All boards want to make money and they have been quick to jump in with the BCCI, basically doing what they told them."

The ICL has kept players' salaries a secret, unlike the BCCI that organised last month's publicised auction of leading players for the IPL, which has already netted an astonishing two billion dollars in rights and sponsorship.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni was bought by the Chennai franchise for 1.5 million dollars to play a minimum of 14 Twenty20 matches over 44 days.

The price for other top stars ranged from 500,000 dollars to a million dollars.

In contrast, top-earners at the ICL like Lara, Inzamam and Bond are reportedly in the 500,000-dollar bracket, a sum still big enough to attract players from around the world.

New recruits to the ICL, besides Bond, include fellow Kiwi Lou Vincent, South African Justin Kemp, Heath Streak of Zimbabwe and Wavell Hinds of the West Indies, according to the organisers.

With 15 players from across the border in the bag, the ICL opted to field an all-Pakistan team called the Lahore Badshahs (Lahore Kings) in a bid to cash in on the traditional rivalry between the two nations.

"A Pakistan team add a whole new dimension to the league,"
said Himanshu Mody, the ICL's business head.

A financial services company bought the title rights for the upcoming ICL edition for five million dollars, half of what the BCCI bagged for naming the IPL after a real estate giant.

But monetary comparisons were unfair, according to Kapil Dev, the legendary Indian all-rounder who heads the ICL's executive board.

"It's not about how much you pay the players but how serious they are about the event,"
Dev said.

"My domestic players are motivated because they get a chance to play against the game's greats. The international stars we have are also determined to make the ICL a success because they have been snubbed by their own boards.

"We are promoting the game, is there anything wrong with that?,"
Dev asked.

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