These are worrying times for the Indian Premier League (IPL). Not only do Star Sports continue their peculiar policy of leaving Michael Clarke’s microphone turned on during matches, but the BCCI is now facing the prospect of India's brightest stars turning their backs on its marquee event to instead go and play first-class cricket in England.
It has long been feared the County Championship would start to impact the IPL’s commercial value and allure. Now, with the news that Virat Kohli has signed for everyone's favourite — plucky underdogs Surrey — how many more of India’s bright young talents will be tempted to skip the cheap pom-pom glitz of India’s flagship T20
tournament entirely to and ply their trade in more wholesome places? Essex, for instance.
Admittedly, Kohli’s stint in south London will come after the conclusion of the IPL, though as captain of Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) it seems a bit optimistic of him not to have booked his ticket to Gatwick for the week before the playoffs. Yet there are those who have already chosen to exchange strategic time-outs sponsored by CEAT for strategic dine-outs sponsored by Nando’s, the restaurant all county cricketers are obliged to tweet about at least once a month or have their phones confiscated.
First Ishant Sharma spurned the IPL — just because no one purchased him at the auction — to play for Sussex. He's also got himself a snazzy new haircut modelled on an English bowling star, though unfortunately not James Anderson. Then Cheteshwar Pujara headed back for his fifth stint in England, this time for Yorkshire, again just for the spurious reason nobody would have bought his superb yet studious capabilities for the IPL. How long before the likes of Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer, Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill also decide to forego their multi-million dollar IPL contracts to compile earnest fifties at Headingley, Hove and Grace Road?
There are rumours some Indian players are even calling for a “County Championship window” lasting six months from April to September each year with no Indian international or domestic cricket. This will allow them to gain vital experience in England of flicking through Instagram in changing rooms while waiting for persistent light drizzle to subside. Another Indian player, who has featured in the County Championship in the past, confessed that the technical knowledge shared around the changing rooms in England was invaluable to his career. “Jonathan Trott taught me how to play the moving ball late; Paul Collingwood taught me how to slip in muggy conditions; and Gareth Batty taught me how to kill a man with one look,” he said, asking not to be named for fear of reprisals from Kohli’s feisty new teammate. So it seems the IPL is in crisis and faces a growing exodus of talent unless it acts soon.
Here's a three-point strategy for India’s governing body:
1) Launch a smear campaign against Kohli. The Indian captain may make more money selling his toe-nails online than playing English domestic cricket for six weeks, but
nevertheless the BCCI should try to cast him as mercenary. This worked very well for the ECB against Kevin Pietersen, who suggested long ago England players should play
in the IPL to improve their white-ball cricket. In return for this subsequently proven completely correct idea, he was denigrated a pariah and treated to vicious abuse at many county grounds, which can involve groups of people in cardigans tutting quite loudly. If the BCCI launches a similar PR offensive against Kohli, perhaps hinting he has only gone to Surrey because he wants more money to spend on gym equipment, it could dissuade others from taking the same path.
2) An old one, but make the IPL less batting-friendly. In the County Championship this year, there have been four innings totals under a hundred runs, the event exhibiting the sort of wham-bam action that fans love. In the IPL, just three sides have collapsed for double figures, with many teams instead choosing to drag out their entire innings to 20 overs in bloated affairs that have become boring for viewers. Young starlets are unlikely to want to be associated with this tedium.
3) Stop helping English players feel at home in the IPL. There has been much criticism of Kohli’s move from those in England who believe Surrey are helping the enemy by allowing him to adjust to English conditions ahead of his side’s Test series there later in the year. This is both narrow-minded and unfair, as it is perfectly possible to recreate English conditions in India just by playing tape ball cricket indoors in the showers and turning the water on every forty minutes. CSK have also allowed Mark Wood to gain vital experience of his likely involvement in the summer Test series by hardly ever picking him. When not chosen by England for whatever reason they find not to pick him this time, he will therefore be well used to this rejection because of being constantly benched by Chennai. This experience of not playing cricket will give him a vital edge against India when not playing cricket against them. This gracious hospitality will only lead to more England cricketers trying to participate in the IPL, where they can try to lure Indian youngsters to the County Championship by telling them about the wide selection of biscuits and Brexit debates available at tea.
The ball is in the BCCI’s court. Reform or face being obliterated by Colin Graves.