Quiet significantly, the term ‘IPL’ pops up every time India loses a couple of games. It’s like that fat funny chatterbox aunt who’s visited our house, with no signs of departing. As long as she entertains and humors us, we love her. The moment the fun is over, we start back chatting and blaming her for every extra slice of pizza or space, we are denied.
The IPL is being held as one of the prime culprits for the current battered and bruised state of the Indian team – can’t call it the no.1 team, with their best bowler and world best opening pair missing. But is IPL that big a culprit?
When we won the World Cup, there was scant mention of IPL – despite the fact that as many as five members of the squad had fast tracked their place in that Indian team, courtesy IPL performances.
Yet, it was surprising the same fans and experts clamoured for R. Ashwin’s inclusion in the playing XI, on strength of his IPL performances alone; since at that point the off spinner had just single digit experience in the 50 over format. Even on date, whenever there is talk of our spinners’ inventory, inadvertently, Rahul Sharma and Iqbal Abdullah’s names pop up – both IPL 2011 performers.
Hence, IPL does leave a strong impact on our minds. We enjoy it till it lasts and store memories. People may recall Paul Valthaty’s IPL exploits in April more than Suresh Raina’s match turning displays in the Caribbean Tests in June. The cricketers also see it that way. I recall Saurabh Tiwary once saying during IPL 2011, that even a quick 20 scored in IPL has more recall value than runs scored in domestic cricket. He was right.
Along with it, IPL is a rare event where players finally get a look into, what some of us go through everyday of our lives – the brutal, show-no-mercy ways of the corporate world; where every player, accountable every minute, needs to justify his price tag. Vijay Mallya didn’t waste time sacking his franchise’s CEO (a respected commentator) a few seasons ago and Shahrukh Khan had once sent back two players midway through the tournament at South Africa to cut costs. The two mentioned were not just players, they were two unsung Indian cricketers whose stellar performances helped India break the jinx and start winning important Test matches overseas.
Hence, you can’t blame a Sehwag or a Gambhir who delayed their surgeon’s appointments by a couple of months, aggravating their injuries. Or Zaheer, Yuvraj and Bhajji – whose limbs needed rest. For the price tag riding on them, for the loss it would mean to the IPL viewership, it was evident the participation of world champion medal winners was non-negotiable.
Can IPL be blamed for our spinners not spinning the ball much and the batsmen unable to play the short ball? Not really. If our spinners are losing bite, blame it on lack of talent, T20 cricket as whole, the flat 300+ ODI wickets and the inconsistent domestic pitches – ranging from underprepared to flat ‘pattas’. They are the same reasons why majority of our batsmen will never be great players of the short ball. To a large extent both the problems exist across all cricket playing nations.
The Caribbean tour was marginally shorter than the preceding IPL or the world cup. Terming that tour as ‘meaningless’ would be insulting a West Indian side who still bring uniqueness to cricket. An ardent cricket fan still has a prayer – that one day Pakistan and West Indies return to cricket as a stronger force. For that to happen, top teams have the responsibility to play them, time to time. Am sure we all remember the bygone era when Aussie and English media and experts frequently questioned playing ‘meaningless’ series versus weak teams like India. We aren’t that arrogant, not yet.
So, in that case, is excess cricket the reason for our poor show in England? This argument falls flat once you check the numbers. Consider this. Who are the Indian cricketers who have played well in at least two innings in England? Rahul Dravid, Praveen Kumar and, some distance behind, Ishant Sharma and VVS laxman. The common thread between these four players is that none of them played the World Cup, all of them played the IPL and in the West Indies and possibly none of them are carrying injuries! Does it mean they were more motivated, less drained and match fitter than the rest for missing out on the world cup?
The excess cricket excuse has also been lambasted by Sourav Ganguly – himself a proud Indian who laid India’s foundation towards the no.1 charge, leading with loads of spunk. He spoke of the limited chances a cricketer gets to play for his nation and they should be willing to put everything on the line. He could possibly be questioning the motivation, the extra urge.
If excess cricket has done any damage, it’s that it’s enjoying its existence. Fans don’t mind it, it’s become a market demand (BCCI or ICC are unlikely to ignore it) and it has ensured fans and players have even shorter memory, making cricket a daily routine job.
Truth be told, the tiredness may have been a factor for the bowlers when England were 107/6 at Lords. The bowlers had been bowling with 25% excess workload for couple of days and the batsmen didn’t even allow them a full day’s rest. It shouldn’t have been a factor though at Nottingham when England were 124/8 and when India were replying at 267/4.
England have been more charged, fitter, eager and better prepared than India. They came back from hopeless situations, time and again, and yet completed thumping victories. India should accept that. England desperately wanted to prove that they are best team around, they planned it over many years, selected and persisted with only multi-dimensional players and their entire system, including ECB, should get credit for it.
England may soon be the world’s numero uno test team, deservedly. If that happens, their players will become bigger stars, their fans base will increase and the craving to be a part of IPL or any equivalent tournament will only increase. Don’t forget, IPL was conceived amidst the euphoria of India’s T20 World Cup win. It will be interesting to see where English cricket heads towards, if and after they reach the zenith.
As for India, BCCI has a job of getting a better physio, a better system to screen players before declaring them fit for a series and ensuring players are honest to put up their hands and say their limbs need rest or their mental state needs a break. This is a serious aspect and we will dive deep into this, another day!!