Wednesday, May 7, 2008

the failures of civilisation


But, to take a more libertarian tack than you generally do, don't you think inequalities contribute positively to a league in the short run? You can step out on the street where you live, wherever it is, and notice how the modern Manchester United have done wonders for the global profile of English football. Of course, an ideal competition would be balanced out by different kinds of teams, each of them a unique and beautiful snowflake that competes in a balanced, fair league and brings out the best in each other.

...I know.

Anyway, the idea that the IPL is a fair and equal league is holding up for now thanks to two things: the Mumbai Indians discovering some of the form you would expect as a matter of course from the league's most expensive franchise, which allowed them to pull a couple back over the other metros; and the genius of Shane Warne.

As followers of Rajasthan Royals will testify, he has been little short of a revelation in the IPL. Not only has he led the cheapest franchise to the top of the table on the back of five straight wins, he has cajoled his team's unheralded youngsters and - even more difficult, this - almost convinced everyone that he is now best mates with Graeme Smith.

But the pièce de résistance was surely his performance at Thursday evening's post-match press conference, when his verbal destruction of Sourav Ganguly, his opposing captain that night, made grown men wonder how much more entertaining Test cricket would have been if Warne had kept his nose clean and ascended to the captaincy of Australia. Steve Waugh once called Ganguly a "pr!ck" because, among other things, he made Waugh wait at the toss, but Warne was not troubled by such succinctness.

--from The Spin's 'Extras' section.

I do not understand why this man didn't come in to the circus for a lot more cash. It escapes me entirely. I can't emphasise this enough. Either the moneybags running the teams in the metros had a tin ear for how popular he is in India, or they were swayed by the fact that the man buggered off contract to play in a poker tournament when he should have been captaining Hants. The miracle of Warne and his little team from Jaipur, perched at the top of the IPL table as I write this, is proof of how financial swagger is not the ultimate answer to financial swagger, even at the most businesslike end of sport. Money makes a debilitating difference to the teams who don't have it, but it is irrelevant to the qualities that build teams and sustenable systems, instead of mercenary collectives.

Not to be rude or anything, but if there's any chance of the IPL's being an essentially fair and balanced league, you can be sure the people who pay to keep the machine going will do their best to change the situation as soon as possible. If it doesn't happen next year, it will the year after that. And when the situation changes, and when salary caps are blown and teams start looking to establish long-term dominance, the IPL will be lucky if they have teams that can use all that money and buy themselves a brain. Becoming a Manchester United or [even] a Mourinho-inspired Chelsea, and becoming a team of Galacticos, which is the likeliest and most fearful outcome in the IPL environment, are going to yield very different results.


Abby said...

Knowing nothing of the IPL, I do wonder if their business model is more American-style. Which does ensure a certain amount of "fairness" in among all its flaws- one can expect, in a cycle of ten years or so, for your team to do well eventually. That we have one league for our sports (and therefore no competition from outside) combined with a highly developed draft system means that eventually, everyone gets at least one good player. And if you want, you can capitalize on that. That's the way I understand it, anyway. (Our sports are weird.)

roswitha said...

That didn't cross my mind at all, thank you for that. What I know about the business models of American sport can -- well, let's just say you've taught me more in one comment than I knew before. I think the comparison is close in the current avatar: it's a closed system, an auction/draft is in place, and for now there are salary caps that ensure that the teams with the most money don't hyperinflate the market. The EPL and attendant leagues/competitions create a much more complex system of wealth distribution and opportunity than you'd have in the NFL, I'm guessing.

I do think that the politics of world cricket and those of the owners of the franchises will end up complicating the equations in ways that we can't yet foresee - perhaps the basic parallels the NFL the inequalities between teams will be much *less* than they are between the Uniteds and Derbys of the world? But they will certainly exist.

roswitha said...

Exist to a greater extent than they already do*, I mean.

Abby said...

Yeah. As a casual observer, what the draft system does is create dominance for a time, but that fades. A team may completely dominate for two or three years in a row, but as their stars fade it's harder to get new ones in. There isn't the same storied history as before. The difference with the IPL, I assume, is that their "draft" is an auction. In a US-style draft, the worst team in the league gets the first pick of the draft, and so on. It can be traded for things, but that's the general sense of it.

What makes things different in the EPL and other European leagues is the promotion-relegation system (the last-place team gets punished, not rewarded with a hot young prospect), the academy system (a player gets signed up to a team at nine or ten, instead of coming through the high school and college system), and that there are loads of other leagues competing for essentially the same players (a young American football star has only the NFL to deal with, while a young footballer has the choice of many leagues at more or less the same level). So only everything is completely different, then.

Aditya R said...

Actually Lalit Modi and his cronies are set to remove the wage cap next season onwards. If this season appears vulgar, next season will make this look noble by comparison.

Have a read: Link

Brian said...

I'd argue that the draft system has less to do with the egalitarian character of American leagues than the salary cap/revenue-sharing system does. When teams share profits roughly equally, and are prohibited from spending more than a certain sum on salaries, then success often becomes a matter of assembling affordable talent. And so it tends to be hard to sustain over time, because once your team enjoys a few years of dominance, your players become prominent and, when their contracts expire, unaffordable.

I don't know how well the American leagues will predict the future of the IPL, but to my mind the real problem here is that teams lack personality. One year's dominant force is the next year's bottom-dweller. Coaches are increasingly short-term functionaries who defer to charismatic executives. Our sports are definitely weird.

another joe said...

Like abby and Brian said, having revenue sharing and a salary cap defintely even things out. Like they said, our sports are weird.

Having parity in the league can be a good and bad thing. On one hand, a lack of parity can focus attention on a few recongizable teams/players. Personally, I think the EPL has benifitted overseas from having the "big four". This could add some character to the league. On the other hand, having the same teams win all the time can be boring.

BTW Roswitha, since you mentioned it, how much do you know about the NFL/American football?

roswitha said...

@Abby: It is indeed an auction, and I don't know if any holds are barred. It's pretty mad. Thank you for the outline of life in American sport.

@ Aditya: Thanks! I'd heard of that, and it doesn't surprise me one bit.

@Brian: Charismatic executives? So, like, the owners get more attention than the coaches? That is *so* IPL [...and la Liga and Serie A, compared to the EPL, in some ways...] In fact, I think this is entirely predictive of the character of the IPL, which is to say that it indicates very little. Teams of mercenaries hunt in packs for 45 days of the year in the sweltering heat. It's like we're colonising *ourselves.*

@ another joe: I know what you mean. A temporary difference in quality creates polarities that allow people to identify more easily with teams. Some will go with the winners, then as a reaction others will support the underdogs, loyalties will be tested. And so on.

I know nothing about American sports. Nothing. What I know could be inscribed on the head of a pin, I'm afraid. The only sportspeople from America I have any knowledge of are the Williams sisters.

ursus arctos said...

I think that what you have here is conclusive proof of the fact that if you allow film stars and industrialists to determine a club's choices in a player draft, they will produce less than optimal results.

To introduce yet another American-born concept, that basic fact should have been apparent to anyone who has ever participated in a "fantasy league".

The intrinsic issue is magnified in the IPL context because they were drafting for only a single season of less than two months, with no longer term ties to the clubs and no guarantees that any of the same players will even be in the league (let alone with the same club) the next time they do this (whenever that is).

Add to that the fact that much of the focus was clearly on glitz and "marketing appeal" rather than assembling a winning team, and it's easy to understand why Jaipur are on top and Bangalore on the bottom.

Warne is an absolutely fascinating figure and well worthy of one of Brian's inimitable "Tuesday Profiles" once the great man decides to branch out into cricket. I'm genuinely sorry that my cricket-playing son will never be able to see Warne bowl, as I am that his heyday corresponded with my own estrangement from the game.