When the first draft of the Indian Premier League was outlined, its engineers would’ve hardly imagined it would turn into the mania it has become today. Come IPL and the cricketing world - second only to the global soccer family - will be swayed by a spectacular exhibition of a brand of cricket that has dared to rewrite the gospels of the game. The IPL has, in many ways, turned cricket into a thriving industry. It has turned the game from an international sport into a global one. The incentives of playing the IPL are far more enticing—not just money, which is huge, but also the exposure is unequaled. The flip side of it all, though, worries purists like me. Besides the debate about the chaste culture of cricket being disturbed, it’s the long-lasting impressions on technique and temperament that are far more worrisome.
Indian cricket’s biggest produce, the IPL, as it readies for its fifth edition, demands interpretation and analysis. The point to consider is the bearing it has had on our cricket and cricketers— which makes its dissection imperative.
A Platform like no other
Sample this—Ashok Dinda was one of the many nets bowlers who Kolkata Knight Riders had called for a net session. Dinda, right from the onset, had made an impression with the pace and bounce he generated on docile Eden Garden practice pitches. Ricky Ponting was quick to take note of Dinda’s ability and asked John Buchanan to observe the rookie closely. At Ricky’s behest, Dinda, who was yet to debut for Bengal in the Ranji trophy, bagged a coveted IPL contract. He impressed all in the first edition of the IPL and went on to play for Bengal and India in the following years.
The IPL, thus, gave players like Dinda a chance to showcase their talent on the world stage, while also giving others a hope to continue chasing their dreams. Playing for the country was no more the be all and end all of everything—playing in the IPL was as good. For those, who’d been hanging around for years in the domestic circuit, the league has provided an unmatched platform to make a mark. While years in first class cricket only gave them a world of oblivion, IPL resurrected their failing fortunes. The likes of R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Rahul Sharma and Yusuf Pathan may not have caught the attention of the selectors with their Ranji Trophy performances. But their talent was tough to ignore post their IPL success. While the opportunity presented by the IPL is only limited to players with the skill-set suited to the shortest format, it’s worth acknowledging its contribution in unearthing some fine talent for ODIs too.
Players, pressure cooked
If you want to get acquainted to pressure situations, play a T20 game. The entire match is an extended version of the death overs and hence you’d be required to either stop the batsman from scoring quickly or score ten-an-over while batting. Add to that, a packed stadium, millions watching on TV, and the stress of playing against the best players in the world. That’s what the IPL has done to the young cricketers from India. The fear, the inhibitions have all faded away. This breed of youngsters rarely ever allows the nerve to get the better of them. The experience gained in the IPL allows them to express freely right from the beginning of their international career. They may be short on technique and temperament but you’d hardly ever find them short of confidence. Since the gap between first-class cricket and international cricket was huge, players took a longer time to find their feet post the promotion to the highest level. The IPL has bridged that gap, albeit only in the shorter forms of the game.
Rubbing shoulders with Idols
Virat Kohli confesses that Ray Jennings, the coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore and the presence of Jacque Kallis in the side helped him immensely to evolve as a player. Kohli, who represents the young India, was on the verge of falling by the wayside soon after his initiation in International cricket. Even though he had the talent and the technique to succeed, he needed perspective and guidance to take his cricket to the next level. That’s when Jennings as a coach and Kallis as a peer came to his rescue and the rest, as they say, is history. Robin Bist, the highest run-scorer in domestic cricket this year, credits his success to the tips given to him by Sachin Tendulkar. After an IPL game between Mumbai Indians and Delhi Daredevils, Bist from the latter team, requested Tendulkar for his two cents. Those few minutes spent in the master’s company changed the course of his career. IPL has provided a golden opportunity to young Indian players to rub shoulders against the best in the world in a congenial environment, ideal for learning.
IPL’s million dollar babies
It’s a noble thought that sport should be played for the joy it brings and nothing else, not even the monetary rewards. Nonetheless, it’s foolhardy to believe that a player would continue playing if the financial incentives are not adequate. IPL has bridged that gap between a player’s ambitions and aspirations successfully. It has provided the much-needed financial security, especially to those lesser-known players who may never play for the country. And it has done so at a time when there’s an obvious paucity of employment for cricketers. Nothing could be a bigger boon.
But that's only one part of the story, for the IPL have had its pitfalls too.
IPL vs International Cricket
Playing one full year in all three formats for Team India, a player stands to earn between USD 1-1.5 million, which includes the annual central contract fee too. Obviously, one needs to be a player of extraordinary ability to not only fulfill the demands of three different formats but also remain super-fit too, to avoid missing tournaments due to injury. On the contrary, a player of very limited abilities can earn USD 2 million and above for playing 14 T20 matches lasting 3 hours each over 8 weeks.
While it’s an accepted truth that playing for India is a great honor, isn’t it a little naïve to believe that money doesn’t matter at all? Since playing for the country is the biggest honor, shouldn’t playing for India be most rewarding too, especially when the same body runs both the league and the national team? We must find ways to eliminate this disparity or else we may end up losing good International players to the league. The trend has already emerged with many West Indian players refusing to take the central contract. If this can happen to other nations, we too might find ourselves in the same boat soon.
When a player plays for the Indian team, his physical fitness is the prerogative of the team physiotherapist. The physio, being privy to the medical history of a player and the team’s demands, manages the player’s workload in a manner that allows him adequate rest to ensure that the player peaks at the right time. Things are not quite the same when the same player represents an IPL franchise. Both lack of time to prepare and the dynamics of the tournament don’t allow the IPL team physio to address these issues properly. Hence, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if a few players pick-up injuries during the IPL, which force them to miss the subsequent tours with the Indian team. Right from the first edition of the IPL, the list of players who haven’t participated in the International series right after the IPL has been growing.
Is Technique, passé?
India’s dismal performance in overseas Test matches should send the alarm bells ringing. If it hasn’t, then the fact that the seniors are at the twilight of their illustrious career should, for they are going to leave a huge void. The growing popularity of the IPL may lure youngsters to sacrifice technique for flair and flamboyance. The trends are already emerging in domestic cricket where you’d find a lot more players exercising the easier option of hitting out of a tough situation. On the contrary, there will only be a handful of players who’d take the road less travelled of grinding it out in the middle. We will be required to address and arrest this problem or else we won’t produce players who know both the value and the art of batting for time on the basis of technical proficiency.
During a debate with a young audience, a kid asked me to provide valid reasons for him to play the longer format of the game. I did my best by explaining to him the finer nuances of the game and how Test cricket would allow him to understand the game a bit more and enhance his ability to view/play the game better. Despite my best efforts, I failed to turn him into a believer. He was completely enamored by the glitz and glamour of the IPL. That’s when I realized that we might be heading into an era in which kids may not want to play Test cricket at all. Previously, the coaches would punish a player for playing an aerial shot, damning it completely and calling it blasphemous. Now, with the advent of T-20 and IPL, they encourage 12 year olds to go over the top. In fact, I’ve seen coaches and parents giving their wards an earful if he played three dot balls in a row. The presence of Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gambhir might, for a bit, spur kids to take interest in the longer format too. But once they leave, young cricketers are bound to become far more vulnerable than ever before.
Our views on the IPL have wandered in the grey for long, about time we settle on whether we like it or not.