T20 cricket is everywhere. More specifically, T20 franchise cricket is everywhere.
Ever since the Indian Premier League gave the game a taste of franchises, player auctions, and mega dollars in 2008, the cricket world has never been the same.
The IPL spawned so many imitators the calendar ran out of space. You could no longer have one league with a relatively clear window available. There is now always some international series or league running alongside, squeezing every available drop out of the roster.
Obviously, the IPL does not have that issue since it gets a free run at the beginning of the summer, but you get the point – T20 is where cricket resides now.
Now a sub-set of tournaments is cropping up. State-level franchise T20 leagues in India are now a thing, and they are growing in size.
The Tamil Nadu Premier League in the southern Indian state is arguably the most prominent. There is one in neighbouring Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra among others.
These are relatively short tournaments that offer good exposure, and decent money, to young cricketers and serve as a stepping stone to top-level T20 cricket, namely the IPL.
The latest addition to the growth of franchise leagues in India is the Uttar Pradesh T20 League. Set in the most populous state in the country, the UPT20 League sits on a massive home base of 250 million. That makes it an entity on its own.
Six teams were auctioned off last month, weeks after the league received clearance from the Indian board. The teams were purchased for between 55 million Indian rupees ($600,000) and 72 million rupees (approximately $900,000) apiece. Each squad had a player salary pool of around $120,000.
The marquee names in the player draft were assured of 1 million rupees ($12,000) with the minimum salary being 150,000 rupees. Not bad for a tournament that runs for a little over two weeks; having started on August 30, the final takes place on September 16 with all matches at the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur.
The matches are shown on the popular JioCinema app in India and teams have some high-profile names, including IPL regulars Rinku Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Nitish Rana, and Dhruv Jurel.
Bhuvneshwar had earlier told The National that UPT20 caters to a gigantic pool of players who would have otherwise struggled to gain attention. More importantly, these leagues are the perfect platform to catch the eye of talent spotters from IPL franchises. And the money is pretty good, too.
UPT20 League commissioner Dr Devendra Singh Chauhan revealed that, while the inaugural edition of the league was put together in a matter of weeks, plans for next year will be much more elaborate, underscoring the value that T20 brings to cricket and the appetite for it.
“This year, everything was done fairly quickly. We will have more time to prepare next year. We plan to host the tournament in at least two cities in UP,” Dr Chauhan told The National.
“The players were recruited by a draft system this time. This is the first year, so we did not have an auction. Next year, we will have a player auction.”
The UP league is still in its infancy but plans are already in place to accelerate its growth.
“UPT20 has a clause in the franchise’s contract whereby team owners must create cricket infrastructure in their area. They include training academies, modern technology, coaching for underprivileged kids.
“We also plan to include two more teams next year or the year after that. Following that, we plan to have a women’s T20 league. I see very exciting times ahead for cricket and sports in UP.”
This is what is happening in cricket in one corner of India, below the razzmatazz of the IPL but still having an impact. This is where cricket is headed.
Up-and-coming batsman Sai Sudharsan earns more playing in the Tamil Nadu League than he does for Gujarat Titans in the IPL. That could become the norm for many young cricketers coming through.
It is difficult for most cricketers to make a good living out of the game at the top level, but with the rise of leagues like UPT20, and many more, young cricketers now have the chance to pursue their dreams while being fairly close to the limelight.