Euro 2020 Special

How Big Can the Indian T20 League Get? Is there a Limit to the Ambitious Expansionist Plans?

Now that the media rights for the Indian T20 League have been sold for a record fee (US $6.02 billion), organisers of the richest cricket league have announced ambitions plans for its expansion.

According to Jay Shah, secretary of the BCCI, it has already been agreed that starting with the next ICC FTP (Future Tour Programs) calendar, most likely from 2024, that the Indian T20 League will have an official two and a half month window.

That may see the number of matches expanded to 84 or even 94, and may see the addition of even more franchises.

But how big could the Indian T20 League get?


It already expanded in 2022

It should be remembered that the Indian T20 League already saw an expansion in 2022, with two new franchises added, the Gujarat Titans and Lucknow Super Giants, both of whom proved to be highly successful. The Titans won the league in their inaugural season, whilst the Super Giants made it through to the play-offs.

That in turn, led to an increase in the number of matches played, from 60 in 2021 to 74 this year.

The Indian T20 League has been here before. Then 2011 version of the tournament also featured ten teams, but that proved to be short-lived. However, both of the new franchises are well financed and are here to stay.


Is international cricket at risk?

According to Shah, the expansion of the Indian T20 League does not mean there is a risk to international cricket, and the BBCI remains committed to it, backing India to play not only the major series, against crowd pulling opponents like Australia and England, but against the lesser nations as well.

The problem with that is for the elite players who represent their countries in all formats that could mean even more work added to their already overburdened shoulders.

Already there are signs that playing cricket virtually all year round is starting to take its toll on the physical and mental health of players.

(Cricket is not alone in this – football and tennis are seeing similar phenomena as players are seeing precious rest time continuously eroded, to the detriment of their wellbeing and longevity in the sport).

Some, in order to cope, may have to make unpalatable choices. Forsake their international careers in order to manage their workload, or just concentrate on one format of the game. Or turn their backs on the potential lucrative contracts and endorsements associated with the Indian T20 League.

 Test cricket is already struggling to gain an audience outside its traditional heartlands of England and Australia. Younger audiences do not have the time or patience to sit through five days of a match which may result in  a draw, when there is the instant gratification of a T20I to watch instead.

And with the Indian T20 League looking to attract the top international players, smaller countries could find themselves denuded of all their best players.

Inevitably, that might rob fixtures of any appeal,., except for the die-hard fans. Who will want to want Afghanistan Zimbabwe when the Mumbai Indians are playing the Chennai Super Kings at the same time?


Could the Indian T20 League be split?

One idea that Shah has to shoehorn the expanded Indian T20 League into an already crowded cricketing schedule is to split in into two, with the first part played in its traditional time slot, and the second later in the year.

This is effectively what happened in 2021, although that was not by design. When the Covid bubbles, surrounding the various teams in India, was breached, the league was paused in early May, and resumed more than four months later in the UAE.

The issue with that scenario is that inevitably it robs the spectacle some of its drama.  The beauty of the Indian T20 League’s format is that it has an in-built narrative – teams battle through the league fixtures to try and make the play-offs, with the culmination coming into the final.

Fans will have just got behind their team when they will be forced to put their enthusiasm on hiatus for a number of months, something football fans will experience this year with a Winter World Cup for the first time.


Will the Indian T20 League go international?

One way that the Indian T20 League could expand is to go international. It has already shown in its relatively brief history that it does not have to be staged in India at all. It has been staged in South Africa (2009) and the UAE (2014) to avoid clashing with the Indian general election and, in 2020 and, in part 2021, due to the Covid pandemic.

Staging part of the tournament outside India would allow it to expand further, because some of the climactic conditions that might affect it – extreme heat or the monsoon season, for example, could be avoided.

A number of the Indian T20 League franchises have expressed interest in playing friendlies overseas, and given that countries with large Indian diaspora communities will likely mean sold-out venues, then it seems a logical extension to stage part of the tournament elsewhere.

The NFL, for example, now regularly stages regular season games in London, and is expanding that to Germany later this year.


So how big it could get?

There is no definitive answer to this, except to predict that, in ten years’ time, it is likely to be a substantially bigger competition that it is now, with a number of new franchises and matches, some of which may be played overseas on a regular basis.

Money talks and the Indian T20 League has it, although whether that is to the detriment of international cricket remains to be seen.

As for the players a handful of the elite who earn Indian T20 League contracts will likely become extremely wealthy young men. Those though that do not reach that level will be reduced to the status of second class citizens.




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