For the purist, Twenty20 cricket is a ‘circus’. For most other fans of the game, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is the "Grand Indian Tamasha". And for many, it is also a satta bazaar — a reason to burn big holes in one’s pockets after a month and a half of mindless wagering.
I have always likened IPL to the Sunday bazaars that we have in every small town in our country. It has all the ingredients: the stars, the colour, the entertainment, the cheer-leaders, crowds that barely know the difference between in-swing and out-swing, batsmen who are six-happy, bowlers resigned to being clobbered all over the place and people in the more expensive stands, desperate to be seen on television and to post their pictures on social media, perhaps to enhance their status.
The madness named IPL is now drawing to a close and staring us in the face is the all important 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup. The Indian lineup, with some world-class talent at its disposal, is one of the two teams tipped to win the coveted event this time round. The other side is England. However, on recent performances, Australia and Pakistan are also expected to give India and England a tough time and then there are quite a few who are putting their money on the West Indies to make it to the final.
Virat Kohli’s men have worked hard enough over the last few years to be considered prime contenders, along with hosts England, for a shot at winning the World Cup this summer. However, with India’s first match in that major event only a month away, the question on everybody’s mind is: Have we frittered away our chance by holding IPL matches too close to the World Cup? The IPL final is slated to be held at Hyderabad on 12 May, around a fortnight before the World Cup actually commences.
IPL is a gruelling event. It is estimated that teams travel between 10,000-18,000 kms across the length and breadth of the country during the league, playing 14 to 17 matches each. During the 50-odd days that the matches are played, cricketers and support staff literally live out of their suitcases. A franchise may typically play a match in Mumbai, then travel south to Chennai, pack up and head for Mohali in the north and then play at Kolkata in the east, within a couple of days or so of each other. Add to this hectic schedule, the pressure to perform, the varying heat of the Indian summer and the different types of foods on offer at each centre and you will know why players are often left hopelessly fatigued at the end of an IPL season. For star players, IPL also means attending events, endorsing products and doing shoots in between matches.
Take the case of Kohli. In 13 matches till date, he has scored 448 runs @34.46 this IPL season; poor by his standards. David Warner (692 in 12 matches), KL Rahul, Andre Russell, Shikhar Dhawan and Quinton de Kock have all scored more runs than him. The Indian skipper, besides failing to inspire the Bengaluru franchise to do better than finishing last on the points table, has looked listless and jaded this summer. Another potential match-winner for India, Rohit Sharma has aggregated only 331 runs in 12 matches @27.58 and Kedar Jadhav has averaged a dismal 20.25 in 11 innings. These are worrying signs as India heads into the World Cup.
While MS Dhoni, who has retired from the red-ball version of the game, has done well with both bat and his ‘keeping gloves, the rap on the knuckles for Rahul and Hardik Pandya, for their misdemeanours a few months ago, seems to have helped them focus on their game better. They have done well and should find themselves in the playing eleven in England.
On the bowling front, Jasprit Bumrah (15 wickets @ 22.20), Yuzvendra Chahal (17 wickets @ 21.29), Ravindra Jadeja (12 wickets @ 22.83), Pandya (12 wickets @29.50) and Mohammad Shami (16 wickets @ 27.31) have picked wickets regularly. However, Bhuvneshwar Kumar with nine wickets in 13 matches @ 43.88 and Kuldeep Yadav, four wickets from nine matches @ 71.50 have disappointed. Bhuvneshwar and Yadav are expected to be India’s main bowlers in the ensuing World Cup.
Wasn’t it Yadav who broke down after Kohli and Moeen Ali of Royal Challengers Bangalore hit him for 27 runs in one over? Was that a sign of playing too much cricket? I wonder.
In a few weeks from now, as the Indian team boards the flight to London, skipper Kohli, his lieutenant Rohit Sharma, Jadhav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Yadav will have some introspection to do. They shall have to leave behind their IPL ‘failures’ and head to Ol‘ Blighty in as best a frame of mind as possible. The Indian team can’t afford to have five of their key players not believing in themselves and in their abilities. All of them possess world-class talent and to perform in the World Cup, they will need to get their minds back in the right place.
I was appalled this week while reading a report on how there are chances of foreign coaches spilling the beans on Indian players — especially their weak points — to their respective national sides during the World Cup. You can’t eat the cake and have it too, can you? IPL wants the best players in the world, along with the top coaches, to be a part of the league and then cribs about secrets being passed on!
There is no denying that foreign players and coaches/trainers have contributed in bringing about a revolution in Indian cricket. Therefore, cricket officials from India should be open to trading secrets. That’s the only way the game will keep improving and be more competitive. Anyway, what stops foreign coaches from studying video footage of Indian players to find their blind spots?
Last evening, during the Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad encounter at Wankhede Stadium, TV commentator and former pacer Ian Bishop said that he had believed Pandya could get into a tangle while playing the short, quick ball outside off stump. That’s how Bhuvneshwar Kumar got him out. It is therefore natural for players, coaches, commentators to note down players’ weak and strong points. Isn’t that how the ‘Bush Telegraph’ works on the County circuit and even in domestic cricket in India? It is for players and coaches to rise above such petty-mindedness, work on their weaknesses and stay a step ahead of their opponents.
This Indian team — even if mentally and physically exhausted and even if its secrets are passed on — has the ability to hang on and win the ICC World Cup of 2019. Wasn’t it former world heavyweight boxing champ, James Corbett who said, “You become a champion by fighting one more round; when things are tough, you fight one more round!”
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, coach and administrator, he is a mental toughness trainer too.