Arun Bajaj: A shadow looming over cricket
Apr 11 2008 By Arun Bajaj
With the start of the County Championship just days away, I was among a group of business figures invited to Edgbaston to meet the coaching staff and players who will be looking to restore Warwickshire to its rightful place at the top of English cricket this summer.
There was a lot of optimism and the players were clearly buoyed by their pre-season friendly victory over Worcestershire. It was also great to see the legend that is Allan Donald rally the troops ahead of the new season.
There is a lot of excitement at Edgbaston this year with the return of Test cricket. South Africa arrive at the end of July and I'm sure it will be a fantastic series. Having a Test match at Edgbaston means so much to the club, and the city, both in terms of revenue and prestige. But this year there is a shadow looming over all of cricket, one that could change the sport forever.
The Indian Premier League was launched with huge fanfare earlier this year, with some of the world's greatest stars signing up to play in the new tournament. While recruiting overseas cricketers is not a new innovation, paying them the kind of money that was previously only the preserve of footballers and racing drivers most definitely is.
There are similarities to the start of the FA Premier League back in 1992. Television money changed the economics of the sport and soon millionaires were gracing sparkling new stadiums up and down the country. There was also the influx of foreign talent - first the older, fading stars, then the younger players.
The IPL has followed that template. West Indian batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Sri Lankan record-breaker Muttiah Muralitharan, as well as Australian duo Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne, have signed up. None of them could be described as spring chickens, but they will all succeed in getting cricket fans to sit in front of their televisions and pay handsomely for the privilege.
So far, none of the current England Test team have made the move, but if, and when, they do the impact of the IPL will truly be felt over here.
Almost overnight, Twenty20 cricket has gone from being a fun distraction in the middle of the summer to a billion dollar industry. There is already talk of IPL franchises being set up in England, and I'm sure that with its large Asian population, Birmingham will be on the organisers' radar.
But if the Tata purchase of Jaguar Land Rover teaches us anything, it's that Indian businesses don't want to take over the world and shift everything back home. They want to invest internationally and become global players.
The money involved in the IPL, and the speed at which everything has moved forward, is what has taken people by surprise the most. But in doing so it has shown that India is not some slow economic backwater. It is vibrant and forward-looking. It's ready to innovate and shake the foundations of existing business practices and improve them.
The question now is, do western businesses sit there and complain about this new world order, or do they look at the opportunities that are available and join in? I know what my answer would be.
* Dr Arun Bajaj is chairman of the Institute of Asian Businesses and managing director of Radio XL.