How IPL's become the new benchmark for selection to India squads — and its downside

Cricket followers have known for a while that the route to an India cap isn’t the domestic tournament but the IPL.

Austin Coutinho, May 12, 2018 13:36:56 IST

The Indian Premier League (IPL) is like the ‘Sunday Bazaar’ we have in most of India’s small towns. It’s the place to pick up bargains, meet friends once in a week and of course, to get to know what’s new in the market. From the various India squads that have been announced recently, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that MSK Prasad and his men in the selection committee do their window shopping during IPL.

Prasad’s team, though, would have a good reason to do so. In IPL matches, players have to perform in a short time, under pressure and in front of huge crowds and TV audiences. What’s more, the Indian players have to play with — and against — some of the world’s best overseas players. Where else would they get to judge players’ calibre and temperament from close up?

The IPL aspect, in the selection of Indian teams — for Tests, ODIs and T20s — was made public by a Sourav Ganguly reaction to the various India squads that were announced last Tuesday. He said that he was surprised Shreyas Iyer wasn’t picked into the Test side — against Afghanistan — despite being in tremendous form during IPL 2018.

Ganguly was only stating the obvious when he made that statement. Cricket followers in India, and abroad, have suspected for a while that the route to an India cap isn’t the domestic tournament any longer. Players now need to make themselves available for IPL auctions, hope to be bought by one of the franchises, perform — if given an opportunity – and then qualify for any of the India squads, including Tests.

If selectors, former cricketers and critics are to be believed, then IPL is the storehouse of India’s best talent, if not the world’s. Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

If selectors, former cricketers and critics are to be believed, then IPL is the storehouse of India’s best talent, if not the world’s. Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

This selection process isn’t much unlike the education system in our country. Our management graduates, for example, are expected to learn a lot of unnecessary theory, most often by rote, before stepping out into the big bad world of business, to tackle complex, tactical situations. In T20 cricket, if you can bowl four overs for 35 runs and pick up a couple of wickets or if you can score a quick 40, aided by a few sixes and of course, a couple of reverse swept fours, you earn an ‘MBA’. If you are then selected to the Test or ODI sides, it is up to you to make the necessary adjustments; you are thrown in at the deep end of the pool — sink or swim!

That India possesses the brainiest, and the most innovative, workforce in the world is despite our education system; not because of it. That stands true for our cricketers also.

Even Sunil Gavaskar, who during his long international career played with the straightest of straight bats, now promotes IPL as the stepping stone to an India career. He is often heard saying, during TV commentary, that India’s T20 league, with its array of international stars in participation, provides the platform and exposure for a young and talented cricketer to make it big. With former players from other Test playing nations too toeing that line, one wonders if projecting IPL as India’s primary cricket tournament is part of a larger strategy.

Take for instance India’s lineup to take on Afghanistan in the latter’s historic first Test match, at Bengaluru, in June. Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Hardik Pandya and Shardul Thakur are primarily products of IPL. They may have performed well in domestic tournaments but IPL gave them the exposure. In that sense, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ishant Sharma who don’t play IPL any longer are lucky to be in the side. The latter could easily have lost his place to Siddarth Kaul if the selectors had decided to be a little more adventurous.

Prasad and his team however seem to have made a few blunders in picking the ODI and T20 sides to face Ireland and England this summer. Ajinkya Rahane has been dumped. Ambati Rayudu and Shreyas Iyer are not in the T20 lineup but find a place in the ODI squad against England. Is this some sort of adjustment where the spoils are divided between Suresh Raina, Manish Pandey, Rayudu and Iyer? Could Rishabh Pant have taken the second wicket-keeper’s spot in both the T20 and ODI sides ahead of Dinesh Karthik, with the sort of form he has been in recently? Moreover, why hasn’t Suryakumar Yadav been rewarded with an India selection after his consistent batting performances, this IPL?

Spare a thought for those who went unsold at the IPL auction of 2018. Along with superstars like Joe Root, Hashim Amla, Jason Holder and a few others, some talented India cricketers too weren’t picked by any franchise. Varun Aaron, Sreenath Aravind, Unmukt Chand, Abhimanyu Mithun, Ashok Dinda and Akhil Herwadkar are a few who have been cooling their heels at home this IPL, hoping for a mid-season call up. Is their international career therefore practically over?

If IPL performance is the new criterion for selection to India squads then the selectors have driven home a point in selecting the India ‘A’ squads that play ODIs and four-day matches against England Lions and West Indies ‘A’ this summer. The India ‘A’ selections are based largely on domestic performances. The message therefore is clear: You can’t play for the senior India side with domestic performances only; you need to perform in IPL!

If the selectors, former cricketers and critics are to be believed, then IPL is the storehouse of India’s best talent, if not the world’s. What worries me about this aspect of the cash rich league is: Are the franchisees even bothered about what IPL means to Indian cricket? Could there be an IPL auction in the near future where a Rohit Sharma or an Ajinkya Rahane isn’t ‘bought’ because of strategic and/or financial reasons? If it can happen to Root and Amla, it can happen to anyone.

The Ambanis, the Shah Rukh Khans and the Preity Zintas are going to be custodians of Indian cricket in future. Besides building their brands and making a fair profit out of their ventures, they shall have the additional burden of supplying outstanding talent to senior India teams. The franchise owners, not the Board of Control for Cricket in India, shall keep Indian cricket on the growth path in future.

The ‘Sunday Bazaar’ is here to stay. It makes a lot of money for all its stakeholders. Besides providing top class cricketers the chance to become rich, IPL now also gives them the opportunity to play for India through their league performances. The out-of-fashion domestic tournaments therefore had to be downgraded. IPL is now the new benchmark for India selections — a clever move indeed!

The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he is now a sought-after mental toughness trainer.

Updated Date: Jun 26, 2018 11:46:38 IST

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