The cruelest reality of this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) is that fast bowlers do not know if they are coming or going! The league is just a week old and there are injuries galore, with replacements boarding flights by the day to answer summons from franchises.
The latest in the long list of injured is Kolkata Knight Riders’ Kamlesh Nagarkoti. The young fast bowler, who excelled in the U-19 World Cup in New Zealand earlier this year and thus bagged at the auction for Rs 3.2 crore, has bowed out of this season’s IPL without even making his debut.
Not surprisingly, English county teams heaved a collective sigh of relief that his replacement would not be one of their own after KKR opted for Karnataka’s promising paceman, Prasidh Krishna.
Earlier this week, when Chennai Super Kings replaced an injured Kedar Jadhav with England fast bowling all-rounder David Willey, his team Yorkshire, which had already let go of another ‘replacement’ Liam Plunkett (for Kagiso Rabada), was indignant.
Director of Cricket, former England batsman Martyn Moxon, said they found themselves in an impossible situation with these late replacement requests.
“If we deny a player an opportunity, we will be left with someone who is not completely focused on playing for Yorkshire. This would be counter-productive,” he said.
Morton, who pointed out that there were already 12 England players at this year’s IPL and that their absence would affect English counties whose season started in April, said that he would be calling for the introduction of a cut-off date, after which players will not be allowed to go to the IPL.
Morton, a former professional cricketer with a Test top score of 99, is well aware - and probably understands - that every cricketer wants to be a part of the cash-rich IPL. His Yorkshire player Willey, who was signed for Rs 2 crore (around 225,000 pounds) by CSK for about five weeks of cricket, comes from a set up where the average six-month-long season’s earning is only 80,000 pounds.
The lucrative IPL contract for five weeks of work is therefore a bonanza for him and other chosen professional cricketers.
But this still does not take away from the fact that an alarming number of fast bowlers have broken down far too early this IPL season. Fast bowlers, especially those that can bowl at speeds of over 140 kmph, are vital to a team’s success. Their searing pace and skill ensures that scoring opportunities are kept at a minimum.
Franchises build their bowling strategy around key pacemen. While they could have a back-up, truly world class fast bowlers are difficult to find. This is the reason that KKR paid a whopping Rs 9.4 crore for the services of Mitchell Starc or Mumbai Indians paid Rs 5.4 crore for Pat Cummins or Delhi Daredevils paid Rs 4.2 crore to retain Rabada.
Yet all three broke down between the auction in late January and the start of the IPL in April after they had bowled their hearts out in the fiercely-contested Test series in South Africa. These injuries certainly hit their franchises hard, although the presence of Mitchell Johnson cushioned the Starc-injury blow somewhat for Kolkata Knight Riders.
Likewise, Royal Challengers Bangalore had a good back-up in Chris Woakes and thus hardly felt the pain of losing Australian paceman Nathan Coulter-Nile.
But what would be most alarming is the fact that the IPL season has just started and already there are too many players laid low by injuries. If more players, fast bowlers in particular, fall by the wayside in the coming days, it would certainly affect franchises and the quality of IPL competition. (CSK’s Lungisani Ngidi flew home to South Africa following the demise of his father but is expected to return soon.)
The string of injuries to key players would have alerted and alarmed various cricket boards for another reason. The next World Cup starts on 30 May, 2019, immediately after IPL 2019, and teams would hardly want injured players reporting for national duty. But that’s a matter for another day.
More pressing is this year’s injury concerns which call for some damage control measures. Of course the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), IPL governing council and other boards also need to take a long-term view.
The rest of the current IPL season warrants stricter monitoring of players’ fitness, greater rejuvenating practices and constant player rotation.
As for the future, the BCCI must convince other countries to provide key fast bowlers a minimum of four to six weeks rest before the start of the IPL. All parties stand to benefit from this: the IPL gets the best players and hence the standard stays high, the player earns good money for his skills and the various boards who get a percentage of his earnings also stand to gain financially.
The alternative would be painful. The best fast bowlers would quit international cricket and concentrate on a career in lucrative T20 leagues. That’s certainly not something national boards and fans would look forward to.