The Delhi Daredevils had triggered a late uprising in this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL). They had suddenly decided to put a foot in the closing door that led to the playoffs. They wanted to be a part of the race they had long appeared to pull out of.
The Daredevils had rung the warning bell. The Gujarat Lions were over for a game not a lot were glued to. Both the sides hadn’t crept up from the bottom half of the table. But on the night of 4 May, Zaher Khan’s boys lit up the Feroz Shah Kotla as they rubbished the 208 for seven the Lions had scored.
This was the Daredevils’ highest chase ever. More importantly, they had made a remarkable reappearance in the race to the playoffs.
Next, the Mumbai Indians came over and set them a target only three more than what they had mocked. The Feroz Shah Kotla sat back in anticipation of another night of wizardry from their boys. But there was to be no repeat. Instead, there was only embarrassment that followed as they were blown away for 66. The whipping meant that the door to the playoffs had all but shut on the Daredevils.
The Daredevils had epitomised intent against the Gujarat Lions, but their shambolic caving in against the Mumbai Indians was a reminder to their bosses that they lacked the batting resources — especially, the foreign recruits.
But there would have been no need to serve this reminder had the top management of the franchise had the option to utilise the services of the international players that had been warming the benches of the other teams.
Faf du Plessis played two games, while Usman Khwaja played none for the Rising Pune Supergiant. David Miller played five and Eoin Morgan appeared in four games for the Kings XI Punjab. Darren Bravo donned the Kolkata Knight Riders’ colours just once too.
Marlon Samuels, Corey Anderson, Kagiso Rabada and Pat Cummins were the four overseas players the Daredevils fielded against the Mumbai Indians on the night their hopes of sneaking into the playoffs were laughed upon.
Samuels had flown in as a replacement only a few days prior. Anderson and his monstrous hits never got into beast mode this season, while Rabada and Cummins are known more for their talent with the ball than with the bat.
The Daredevils could chase down the mammoth target the Lions had set them because their young Indian batsmen came off. But, for a team to win the title, it needs the perfect blend of Indian and foreign talent. The Daredevils lacked it, especially with the bat.
Expectedly, the young Indian batsmen could not repeat the stunning show of two nights ago. And, Samuels and Anderson did not have enough fire in the bank to help their team pull off a successive heist.
Chris Morris, Ben Hilfenhaus and Carlos Brathwaite the other internationals they had in their squad — none of them renowned for their batting talents alone. Sam Billings of England had flown home early for international duty, while Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy had pulled out because of fitness issues ahead of the season.
On a night like that, where victory was imperative to stay in contention for the playoffs, the Daredevils would have readily acquired the services of any of Du Plessis, Khwaja, Miller, Morgan or Bravo.
Similarly, the Gujarat Lions could have done with a more elaborate palette of international stars.
Jason Roy craved game time. But for the first half of the IPL, the Lions preferred Dwayne Smith over him. In search of time in the middle, the English opener decided to make a premature return home and participate in domestic cricket, apart from making himself available for the ODIs against Ireland.
While Roy could have been another overseas option for teams in search of one owing to poor form or absence of their recruits, it left a void in the Lions’ arsenal. Once injury ruled Brendon McCullum out of the latter stages of the IPL, Suresh Raina’s men were forced to field a team with only three international stars.
Apart from the distinguished batsmen in the reserves of all the teams that the Lions had to choose from, they also had a bank of bowlers too who could have filled in as their fourth international player.
Mitchell Johnson was called upon only on four instances by the Mumbai Indians. The young Kiwi pacer Lockie Ferguson played only a handful of games for the Supergiant. Likewise, Adam Milne and Tymal Mills, despite him being a T20 specialist, was barely used by the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Even Darren Sammy, who has won the World T20 with the West Indies twice, did not play a single game for the Kings XI Punjab.
Apart from the frustration that sitting on the bench for extended periods brings along for these acclaimed international players, it also leads to a pay cut for every player that is not selected. But, most crucially, it deprives the followers of the game with an opportunity to enjoy the talents of some of the world’s finest.
The major reason why a lot of the foreign players spend more time in the dugouts than out in the middle is because each IPL team is allowed a maximum of four overseas recruits.
The number of international stars in a team could be increased to five. But the IPL is meant to be about nurturing Indian talent apart from all its glitz and glamour, and hence it would not be ideal to reduce the number of locals in a team.
The other option could be the re-introduction of super-subs in cricket. They were tried out in one-day cricket in 2005. Teams can name one player, overseas in an ideal world, as a super-sub and replace one from the playing XI midway through the game. In this way, the teams will still start with four foreign players but can bring in a fifth later in the game. For example, if a local Indian bowler is done with his quota of four overs, he can be substituted by an overseas batsman, which in turn will bolster the team’s batting too.
The other choice is as Amrit Mathur, a former consultant with the Delhi Daredevils, mentioned in one of his columns for Hindustan Times. He spoke of how the teams should have an option to loan a foreign player after half of the season’s games are done with.
Mathur’s suggestion is based on the model that the football league’s follow, which allow players to be loaned off with terms and conditions — like not fielding him against the team he has been loaned from.
In fact, if the players can be loaned midseason, there would be no harm in exploring the option of transferring them permanently too. Like the football leagues have a January transfer window, the IPL could also have transfer period around the end of April, which lasts a couple of days.
If in any of these suggestions are put into place and the overseas players earn greater time on the field than in the dugouts, the fans too will be treated to higher quality of cricket apart from it benefitting the teams.
A Johnson in possibly his last IPL could have wowed the crowds further by steaming in more regularly to deliver his left-arm thunderbolts. Similarly, the array of international captains like Du Plessis, Angelo Mathews, Morgan, Shakib Al Hasan and Kane Williamson would not have spent as much time twiddling their thumbs in the hut.
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