Not often has it happened in Indian Premier League’s recent history that all ten teams have had a mathematical chance of making the playoffs, as they now do after 55 matches. While the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), under the guise of the IPL franchisees appears to be acquiescing to a new world order, it is creating cavernous chasms in the international game as is being evidenced across the board.

While it would seem like teams like the Gujarat Titans and the Chennai Super Kings have managed to break away a little from the rets of the pack in terms of the sure fire teams to make it to the play offs, nothing has been set in stone yet.

In fact at the end of 56 matches, the Titans are at the top of the points table with 16 points only one more than the Chennai Super Kings. Tied in third place are Rajasthan Royals and the Mumbai Indians with 12 points but the Lucknow Super Giants are behind by just one point on 11 while Royal Challengers Bengaluru in 6th place and Kolkata Knight Riders in 7th place are tied on 10 points with 9th place finisher the Punjab Kings.

While Sunrisers Hyderabad and the Delhi Capitals are scraping the bottom of the pile as it were, they are on 8 points. And the mathematical idea of every team being able to score 16 points although their fate could rest on more than that has made this game entertaining at the deep end of the tournament.

Though it is obvious some teams cannot leapfrog up even if other teams bend and cave at the wrong time, it does stand that there is a great degree of equality between team’s competitive levels, the question of quality can be raised after. This is presently how cricket also seems to be operating, trying to find parity, sometimes at the cost of quality, in how the market divides the cricket’s disproportionately heaving fortunes.

Meanwhile the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 seems shrouded more in mystery. It seems hardly sufficient to blame Pakistan alone for why there is not as much as a peep about a tournament that will enjoy the attention of a billion plus audience.

While there are claims that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is yet to officially confirm its team participation in the ICC flagship tournament later this year in India, with the Asia Cup hosting being held as ransom, it seems rather than the usual World Cup in India hype is being held back to give the IPL the full undivided attention of sponsors and fans alike, a speculation and accusation neither the ICC nor the BCCI is willing to go into at this point, while the IPL is still hot and raring.

That though has not held back the qualifying process as South Africa celebrated a rare opportunity to seal the final automatic qualification berth to avoid the ICC Cricket World Cup Super League qualification. This was after the match between Ireland and Bangladesh had to be called off due to rain. Ireland needed to win all three of their ODIs to push themselves through.

South Africa will consider this a reprieve and a golden opportunity and should treat it as one. They staked their ICC Cricket World Cup qualification through a string of poor results to follow up to the fact that the last ICC Cricket World in 2019 did not end well for them as they could barely win three of their matches. And then they gambled away their chance, virtually forfeiting their place in the automatic eight when they decided to put their eggs in the basket of their revised Twenty20 league now dubbed as SA 20.

If ever there was a case for alarm bells tolling loudly about the changing horizons in world cricket, this was it as South Africa had forfeited playing Australia and instead chosen their own revamped league instead. Limping from their own corruption and racism scandals, and sullied by their fallen heroes reputation from being formidable competitors to nearly also-rans, South Africa felt the need to resuscitate life into their domestic Twenty20 competition even at the cost of pushing their national team to keep competing in order to improve their once robust reputation.

It was an open secret that the day would not be long when the mushrooming of Twenty20 leagues around the world would make the current cricket calendar as it stands untenable. But what has made it even more distinct that there was an oligarchy at work was the manner in which the CPL (the Caribbean Premier League) started to show shades of the IPL as the franchisees, having perhaps reached their limit with the BCCI in terms of trying to exercise expansion ideas and a leeway with foreign player entries, branched out to having stakes in other leagues.

While the BCCI has continued dominion over the non-participation of Indian cricketers in foreign leagues, while pioneering countries like the UK and Australia have either plateaued or languished with their version of the Hundred and the Big Bash League, the various IPL franchisees have found better doors opening in newer leagues with investments across the globe now in the Caribbean, South Africa, the Gulf and more recently with the USA cricket entry with Major League Cricket.

There was bound to be a fallout wherein the very vestige of the sport that the BCCI promised to protect, and which is why it claimed to have clipped the ICL’s wings in the first place and even banned the ‘rebel’ players for a time, has now come under the hammer.

When the IPL was auctioning players in a one of a kind scenario unprecedented in world cricket, it might have seemed that it would not take fifteen years and yet it has that Twenty20 is threatening the very foundation as cricket stands in its avatar.

While the BCCI has claimed ironclad clauses with the necessary NOC from various cricket boards for players to participate in the IPL, it has not been able to stem the idea of players in their prime either choosing to give up the long form formats of the game or choosing to give up international cricket altogether with a burgeoning young family expanding on the side and lucrative financial deals as free agents falling into their laps.

But this is one that might come back to bite them as it is now coming out in the open what has been speculated when the franchisees first looked overseas, when the IPL was taken to the UAE. While the board has been wanting to cash in on the idea of two IPL tournaments in a year, the franchisees are looking at a deeper inroad into the game’s very foundation, committing cricketers to multi million dollar deals that would make them subservient to the franchises but also, make the cricket boards subservient to them in terms of whether a particular player might be released for national duties.

While the cacophony calls seem to come from England in what is a deliberate leak perhaps stemming from alarmists and with players like Jofra Archer who are as enigmatic as they are unpredictable with injuries as well as behaviour tendencies, it is not entirely unanticipated though bold. And there is little doubt that this was not an isolated case or incident or without other franchises operating similarly or without even peripheral awareness from boards.

While it might seem to work for football, which is globally on surer footing, for cricket it is dire news. It will keep the Twenty20 fanatics following the sport but decimate the ecosystem as it stands, plausibly even making domestic and first class cricket redundant, which would spell the death of sport at the international level as quality begins to suffer which is also being witnessed in countries and teams such as South Africa and the West Indies. There has been an ongoing battle within England when it comes to preserving county cricket while catering to franchisee cricket.

While this is not a doomsday scenario, it is a practical possibility to take into consideration where even the introduction of one day internationals were considered revolutionary and antithetical to the sport at the time. And cricket was kept alive only because it could share a relative happy co-existence with the shorter format.

The idea that the players, presently bound to cricket boards, will be bound to franchisees will initially seem like a financial windfall. But it is a strapping on some of the more versatile cricketers that could well undermine the sport and its quality and health overall when franchisees dictate which players play which tournaments and how many games and if they even serve in national capacity anymore, depending on their relationship with a particular player and particular cricket boards.

With the restraints off the franchisees, which have a semblance of it in terms of foreign player participation in the IPL which has been their long standing grudge and that they cannot take their Indian asses overseas as things stand presently, there is no telling if there will be a system anymore.

Players who are currently railing against being denied opportunities or having to share a cut with the boards might make money in gargantuan sums but might in turn placate their franchises by forfeiting their say in expressing what format, which sport, and which tournament they wish to play in the most. It is a trade off, as are most things, but is this a trade off cricket is willing to make?

With the entry and the general acquiescence of the BCCI to the Saudi Arabia entry not only in the form of sponsorship but also, a potential league and maybe a tie up that would see an IPL spin off. The franchisees will welcome the opportunities to spread their tentacles deeper and further into the capital rich pockets and corners of the globe, and the BCCI will have to consider its own trade off.

The ICC stands at mercy for not checking people at the gate in the first place and then having to let some people through because of the money they bring to the sport globally. This would explain why the IPL has a window in international cricket – because its stakes will definitely be diluted, even if it continues to make a profit, reducing the sport to a handful of Twenty20 matches.

It is interesting that while the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA) have managed to keep the franchisees at bay for the time being, they have been in this familiar situation before where Lalit Modi was accused of trying to form his own rebel league post the BCCI fallout by colluding with officials from the ECB. A large scale poaching has been unprecedented but not airtight as the BCCI’s which is why the ECB is banking heavily on player loyalty.

Interestingly enough the CA has come to a compromise with the broadcasters whereby it has now agreed to reduced the BBL matches to just forty matches to enhance revenue and also, competition quality. It is something that has been suggested as the IPL has only gotten bigger and louder.

While the move on the part of CA might be a last ditch effort to ensure maximum participation from their own players with limited time and opportunities and to revive their own Twenty20 fortunes as the UAE and SA Twenty20 tournaments ripped into their player pool, the merits of tightening something is something that has been tried on the Champions Trophy level as well to enhance the quality of competition and scale down on disparity between competitors creating gaping holes in the cricket schedule.

What expands must contract, so goes the adage. Going by that alone, will it take a combustion for cricket to dial the clock back to zero? Can franchisee loyalty supersede national pride?

Some cricketers are already making those hard decisions, with rocks in their throat and wanting a backdoor entry when it comes to World Cup events. New fans of the sport might take more easily to franchise sport as they come to know it.

But will the old order cease to exist, and therefore, not make a case for preserving Test cricket, which most cricketers at international level will reveal burns in them to play and test and prove themselves again, and to keep innovating to keep the One day internationals, the key transitionary format, relevant to aid new associate member teams who don’t just want to be counted as making up numbers globally in a Twenty20 contest?

It would not be unlike turning the game on its head and with the ODIs forever on the endangered species list and Test cricket trundling down a similar road not for want of finances but for want of sufficient interest and stakes from the avaricious cricket boards, the cricket boards themselves could be franchised next, dictating how cricket might be played.

But is this a plausibility they could fathom, behind closed doors, rolling in the dough and blinded by a lack of vision while the ICC cools its heels, virtually resigned on its global expansion plans as it becomes a case of every man for himself in what was an ultimate team sport?