The big news coming out of the GT20 Canada draft was that Indian legend Yuvraj Singh would play in the event.
The second Indian name; and the only one to be selected from the hundred names from that nation on the draft list (which was actually missing Yuvraj) was former Indian ODI and IPL fast bowler Manpreet Singh Gony.
And it’s the fact that both are going to be playing in the second edition of the GT20 Canda that may hold particular significance to the question of India’s male players participating in T20 league outside the BCCI’s purview.
Manpreet made his ODI debut against Hong Kong in the 2008 Asia Cup, a match that also featured centuries from MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina.
A string of injuries throughout his career seemed to come just when he was finding form again and he was never able to get back into the Indian side after playing twice during that Pakistan-hosted Asia Cup.
He did, however, play a long career domestically in India, and on the announcement of his retirement after the GT20 draft, he was described as “backbone” of the bowling attack by Punjab skipper Mandeep Singh.
Prior to the GT20 draft various agencies, including Emerging Cricket, reported on Yuvraj’s approach to the BCC to allow him to play in overseas leagues such as GT20 and the Slam on account of his retirement from all forms of cricket under the auspices of the Indian board.
There was an initial general understanding that the BCCI would make any players wait two years after retirement to be available for consideration for overseas leagues, but the common decision to let these two players play, especially considering their differing profiles, would appear to change this.
Time will tell if this will only be allowed for these ‘smaller’ events (we can assume Yuvraj is all but a lock for the commonly-owned Euro T20 Slam) or whether we start to see some of India’s well-known names start to pop up regularly around the world.
The Euro T20 Slam launch ceremony had a surfeit of Indian flavour, the GT20 draft was in Mumbai, the new USA T20 League will be majority owned by Indian’s largest media conglomerate, and as was seen when the HK T20 Blitz had, and then lost Yusuf Pathan, so many media rights deals are invariably linked to Indian involvement and interest.
What this news could mean is a broadening of appetitive for Indian media to invest in (broadcasting) other leagues. Presently, all but two Full Members have leagues, and with events across countries like Netherlands, Ireland, Nepal, Hong Kong and soon the USA, so the question needs to be asked; at what point will the law of diminishing returns take over? And perhaps more importantly, what can be done to broaden the scope of other international events both financially and in driving new interest?
Bertus de Jong wrote on this conundrum with respect to the GT20 for Cricbuzz last year, and Tim Wigmore considered it more broadly in his “Are T20 leagues making money?” Cricket Monthly piece from 2017 (somewhat prophetically) written not long after the ill-fated T20 Global League was announced – a venture that cost Cricket South Africa millions, and its CEO his job.
The HK T20 Blitz was designed to fit ‘in between’ some of these bigger leagues; being under a week’s duration meant top players were cheaper, interest levels were maintained and the standard was generally high, all things considered. What is not in Cricket Hong Kong’s favour is the facility available. Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground has zero crowd amenities on site and its cost to set up its ability to manage crowd levels ie ticket sales to sustain the event as it builds its commercial profile to the point where TV broadcast went from a cost centre to a profit line, is a big challenge.
With only so many eyeballs to go around for all the leagues around the world perhaps it is time to explore the idea of shorter, sharper tournaments, perhaps even formats, to create sustainable, impactful events. This could also allow space for the game to continue expanding to, and growing within, new markets. Rugby Sevens has shown the power of weekend ‘carnival’ events and while the Hong Kong Sixes never grew beyond the region to any magnitude (despite the best efforts of some, including Shane Warne and Anil Kumble) the power of an event that can be packaged up in a holiday and is over an done in under a week should not be ignored.
You could then even take a step further back to consider broader regional or global leagues with pooled media rights deals, be these being private league “clubs” or a developed version of the ICC’s new ODI Super League / CWC League 2, but that can wait for another day.