The said newspaper owner owns a team in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the cricketer had made his priorities clear in no time.

“IPL, agents, sponsors…. cricket and cricketers have become part of a commercial circus,” rued a former Test cricketer. Commercial circus? Sunil Gavaskar would disagree. He once considered IPL a facilitator for the youngsters to make an impact. For obvious reasons, he has changed his mind of late.

He wrote recently: “Far too often we have given India caps to players on the basis of scores in the IPL which is only a Twenty20 tournament and so does not give a correct idea of the player’s skill level as well as his temperament. Just because the IPL has more viewership than the Ranji Trophy does not mean that the players who do well in that should get the India cap. Have a look at some of the players picked for the ODIs and see if they have done well and been anywhere near selection for the Indian team again. So the caps were quite clearly undeserved and a waste”.

Indian cricket, most former players admit in public, is on the right track.

New India

Privately they hold an opposite view. “IPL is indeed a metaphor for a new India — crass, brash and razzmatazz,” wrote author Gurcharan Das. It indeed is because it has changed the face of Indian cricket, changed the way youngsters approached the game, changed the way the game is administered.

IPL has also paved a new way to get into the reckoning for the National team. The performances, good or bad, do not last long in the memory, but some ‘performers’ and their ‘performances’ do manage to catch the eye of the selectors and the spectators alike!

Such players quickly come into the radar of the sponsors and agents. This is just what the young cricketers these days hope for — short cut to being a recognisable face, instant success and some decent money.

In fact, cricketers cannot be blamed for thinking of commerce rather than cricket in IPL.

IPL brought money, and with it, corruption, to an extent that the Board of Control for Cricket in India had to step in and take some corrective measures. Some worked. Some have not. The Board was quick in blocking the agents, who had mushroomed in a prolific manner, threatening to dictate the smooth functioning of the selection process.

Not long back, in the second season of the IPL, the Board warned the under-19 players, through the media, not to sign any contract with a self-proclaimed agent and ‘mentor’, who had promised lucrative deals with different franchisees.

Quite similar to a development on the eve of the ICC World Cup (under-19) final in Colombo a few years ago when coach Venkatesh Prasad had to shepherd his players from agents who had descended on the team hotel. The distractions were detrimental enough. They cost India the match against Pakistan the next day.

“There is nothing wrong in a player having an agent. With so much money to be made these days, it is important the player stays focused and the agent handles his financial contracts. Even you and I would do the same for our wealth management if we had the kind of money these modern cricketers have. But the agent should not have anything to do with the player’s cricket. I saw to it when I was a national selector and then the coach of the team. The agents stayed away from me,” said former Test opener Aunshuman Gaekwad.

Sponsors have a lot at stake when they support an event or a player. A clause in the contract insists on a player making an appearance at regular intervals. The payment is said to be linked to his appearance and not necessarily performance. There was an instance when two key players received support from the India captain to skip the Duleep Trophy final but remain available for the international commitments to follow soon.

National selector Kirti Azad put his foot down and the two had to play the Duleep contest. The batsman got a century in each innings and the bowler produced 35 overs, just the preparation needed for the away series against Pakistan.

But nothing to beat this ‘commitment’ to the sponsor! A batsman resumed his innings in a Test match. Overnight discussions with the sponsor for a sticker on his bat had reportedly remained inconclusive.

However, as he inched towards his fifty, word was passed that the deal was on. At the first available drinks break, he changed the sticker on his bat on the field.

A pity, he could not reach his fifty and the grand display of the bat on the television screen remained a dream, at least for that match.

It is not that the sponsors interfere with the player’s game. They are allotted specific dates, during off-season, to utilise the cricketer to the full.

“It is not that the players are doing commercials the entire year. It certainly helps to have an agent. He takes care of your public relations and brings in sponsors. Which player today has the time to go through a 50-page document? The agent handles it. But I never had the experience of any agent approaching me. We used to hear stories though,” remarked former selector Bhupinder Singh.

Coming back to the players, it is not surprising to find them hoping to get a ‘good’ agent to look after their interests. A good agent not only brings in endorsements but also ensures good visibility.

If V.V.S. Laxman, for all his commendable match-winning and match-saving innings, could not become a ‘brand’ it is because he lacked an influential agent. In spite of his much-lauded contributions during the 2001 home series against Australia, Laxman could not capitalise on the occasion only because he did not have a good agent. In short, from the cricketers’ point of view, agents, who keep a ‘well-earned’ commission, are a vehicle to derive maximum from their performances and persona. They have become an integral part of the commercial side of the game.

And cricketers are not complaining.

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