Deepak Chahar, who bowls first up for India in white ball cricket with his outswingers, said in a recent interview that he found it easier to get into the Indian team through the Indian Premier League (IPL) gateway rather than through the traditional Ranji Trophy route. He also said that he knew his limitations and therefore didn’t believe that he could play red ball cricket for the country.
Old timers have always said that players needed to go through the first-class cricket grind, including the IPL, if they wanted to do well for India in any of the three formats of cricket, namely, T20, ODIs and Tests. Playing at the domestic level, they said, gave players a better grounding and prepared them for the tougher battles ahead.
Chahar, with a strained back, will miss the final ODI against the West Indies, come Sunday. He had earlier played a few T20 internationals against the Bangladeshis and had done well. The Agra-born medium pacer has been playing for Chennai Super Kings since 2011, except for the couple of years when the southern giants were banned from the IPL.
Two players that come to mind immediately, who have taken the IPL escalator to the India dressing room rather than the Ranji staircase, are Shikhar Dhawan and Jasprit Bumrah. Both of them have done outstandingly well for India in Tests, as well as ODIs and T20 internationals. There are also quite a few overseas players who have benefited from the IPL exposure and have played for their countries in at least two, if not three, formats of the game.
“Success is built over time, not overnight,” goes a wise saying. Bumrah and Dhawan spend a lot of time thinking about their game and weeding out their weaknesses. Chahar can surely take a leaf from their books. He will have to work extremely hard on his game – the mental, physical and technical aspects – if he wants to cement his place in the India side in the coming months. It won’t be easy; Bumrah, Shami and the others are certainly not going to let him have their places, in the first eleven, on a platter.
Speaking of overnight success and sweating blood on the field, the legendary Indian opener Sunil Gavaskar, we are told, has requested Sourav Ganguly, BCCI president, and Brijesh Patel, IPL chairman, to put a cap on the salaries of uncapped players in the IPL. His argument is that when uncapped players – based mostly on unproven talent – are paid in crores, their teammates at the first class level can feel deprived and get demotivated. A good first-class player who represents his state in all Ranji (and other) matches gets paid a maximum of 30-odd lakhs for the eight-month season.
However, the ‘Li’l Master’ fails to point out what the player who is picked for that huge amount goes through. Burdened by the big price tag and unreal expectations, he usually wilts under the pressure and gets blown away. In last year’s IPL auction, for example, Varun Chakravarthy, an uncapped mystery spinner from Tamil Nadu, was picked by King’s XI Punjab for the mind-boggling sum of Rs 8.4 crore. The poor chap got to play just one match and failed to impress. I am told that he has been picked by Kolkata Knight Riders this year for Rs 4 crore; on what basis? If I am not mistaken, ever Glenn Maxwell failed to live up to his colossal price tag and reputation, in his first IPL season.
I have always had this feeling that uncapped players, who usually set their base prices at around Rs 20 lakh, get weighed down when for some reason, in a war of bids among the franchises, their price tags are puffed-up. A newcomer to the big league would normally like to make an uneventful entry so that the pressure of performing doesn’t result in stage fright. Multi-crore price tags can therefore actually be a bane, not boon for uncapped players in the IPL.
I have closely watched the careers of some uncapped players from Mumbai in the IPL. Some made it big, some held on to their places in one franchise or another, and a few others just withered away. Surya Kumar Yadav, who was in my Under-19 squad in the city’s summer camps, has performed well for Kolkata Knight Riders as well as for Mumbai Indians. I would believe that the national selectors, for some reason, have given him a raw deal. Aditya Tare, who has been with me since he was a schoolboy, has played for the Mumbai Indians, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Daredevils. He led Mumbai to a Ranji triumph in 2016. Leggie Dinesh Salunkhe, also from my suburb, played for Rajasthan Royals in 2008 and then got sidelined. Kamran Khan, the pacer with the sling action, impressed Shane Warne at Rajasthan Royals but he too was soon forgotten, perhaps because of a faulty action.
The IPL, like the movies, has a huge following in India. Players who are picked by different franchises become stars almost overnight. Playing cricket, like the good ol’ days, is therefore no longer a calling. It is a career choice. Ask a bunch of schoolboy cricket trainees what they would like to play: IPL or for India? The answer may surprise you.
A long time ago, Balvinder Singh Sandhu, the world-cupper and a few of us from the RCF team, were relaxing at a street corner tea-stall after a grueling practice session. A Gujarati businessman, recognising the swing ace, came over and started a conversation. He said, “Sandhuji, two of my sons are now doing well. One is a chartered accountant and the other one is a doctor. I want to put my third son in your line.”
“What line?” retorted Sandhu, a bit annoyed.
“Cricket,” the businessman replied.
“You think cricket is a line?” asked Sandhu and shooed him away.
A few decades later, cricket has indeed become a ‘line’. The IPL is a money spinner and is now a multi-billion dollar business. I wouldn’t really know if that businessman had anything to do with it, but those who get involved in this cricketing ‘circus’, in any capacity, come out with gold on their hands.
IPL can be cruel too. Cricketers with big price tags, who don’t measure up, are forgotten. Others are remembered for a different reason; match-fixing perhaps?
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he believes in calling a spade a spade.
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