The Indian Premier League 2020 did not have to get off the ground to provide plenty of talking points. As the game gets underway on the field, here’s how some of the stories stacked up leading up to it.

IPL: Not so Indian after all…

The guidelines mandated by the coronavirus guidelines might have made it difficult for the franchisees to differentiate between the foreign players when they touched down in the UAE. But the IPL franchisees had no doubt in their mind that there would be no IPL without the foreign cricketers contingent.

It was one of the reasons why the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was not preying only on external friction. The BCCI did not waste time with the protracted discussions between the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Cricket Australia (CA) over the feasibility of hosting the ICC Cricket World Cup 2020. It began in earnest negotiating with other cricket boards in order to create a window for the postponed Indian Premier League season 13.

Many questioned the seeming contradiction of having a sixteen team premier tournament cancelled because of pandemic concerns but having an eight team tournament going ahead. But it came down to the pull power of currency.

It is also why the franchisees went as far as compromising on taking the IPL out of the country, thereby, losing out on gate revenue and merchandizing. But they were unwilling to go ahead with the IPL 2020 without their foreign cricketers, often bought for exorbitant sums of money at the auctions.

The BCCI had put forth the suggestion that the IPL could go ahead with only Indian cricketers. However, the franchisees were not in favour of renegotiating contracts.

Furthermore, knowing the USP of the foreigners who make up a significant percentage of the brand IPL, not to mention a third of the playing eleven quota, it soon became apparent that the IPL was less Indian than the BCCI would have liked to have touted after all.

Kumble’s Coach Conundrum Returns

Extending the debate about Indianness further, if previous arguments had been about the nationality of captains and the number of foreigners in a playing eleven, this time it was an Indian coach who pushed it a notch further.

Mahela Jayawardena, Brendon McCullum, Ricky Ponting, Anil Kumble, Andrew MacDonald, Stephen Fleming, Trevor Bayliss, Simon Katich.

What’s wrong with this picture? Just ask Kumble.

The former Indian leg spinner was not unaware of the fact that he was the only Indian coach in the current line up of coaches for the season.

Making the push for the need for more indigenous coaches, he stated as he expressed bafflement for the lack of belief in Indian coaches, “It’s clearly not a true reflection of resources. Bit of irony that in IPL, there is only one Indian head coach. Hopefully, in future we will see more Indians as head coaches.”

The dearth of Indian coaches in the IPL over the years is unmistakable. Apart from few exceptions like Lalchand Rajput and Robin Singh, there are no familiar names.

Furthermore, none have been able to establish themselves long term, which has to be the additional concern. Franchisees would rather go with former foreigner cricketers with next to no experience in the coaching position rather than employ homegrown coaches.

It is hard to share Kumble’s optimism given how vehement the franchisees have been for the BCCI to amend the rule that states that there can only be four foreign cricketers in a playing eleven at any given time. Citing that even the allowance of one more foreign cricketer will make a difference, that push has thus far been met with resolutely closed doors. Asking them to now employ Indian coaches as an issue of compulsion might not win the franchisees over.

Ashwin Makes Ponting a Mankad-covert

Tension seemed to be flaring up well in advance before Ravichandran Ashwin joined his new team, the Delhi Capitals, on the ground. The DC coach, Ricky Ponting, laid down the law that he would not allow Ashwin’s last season’s antics become commonplace in the DC team.

Ashwin’s mankading last year of England’s Jos Buttler while playing for the Kings XI Punjab not only upset the Rajasthan Royals’ batsman but also, made him public enemy no.1 in the eyes of the likes of Shane Warne, Ponting’s former compatriot.

Ashwin was well within the law to exercise his right to dismiss the batsman at the non-striker’s end when the latter was attempting to gain a few yards through the unscrupulous method of leaving his crease before the ball is bowled.

It seemed a strange argument to be made that Ashwin’s act was deemed going against the spirit of the game while the batsman deliberately looking to cheat is being overshadowed repeatedly.

The boisterous former Australian captain though met his match as the former Kings XI Punjab promised to make his case. And how!

Ponting was later quoted as saying, “I think we’re both the same. He feels he did everything in the rules and laws of the game and he’s absolutely right.”

While the Delhi Capitals coach claimed that the former KXIP captain made a compelling case, he asked for teams of batsman cheating to be penalized by way of runs to make a point.

The matter seemingly settled continues to be a teasing talking point in the public, with Ponting saying he would not bowl Ashwin in the last over of a match with Ashwin calling the answer and questionnaire a matter of “market strategy”. As it turned out, Ashwin has dislocated his shoulder in the very first match for Delhi Capitals so the captain and coach might not be able to put the theory to test any time soon.

Gavaskar: Seeing Double

Sunil Gavaskar seemed out of character, virtually jumping out of his seat and demanding take back of words from a surprised Boria Majumdar on India’s Independence Day.

The bone of contention?

Majumdar had stated while lending weight to Dhoni’s contributions that it was the former Indian captain whose success initiated greater effort in the direction of the Indian Premier League.

Majumdar was not wrong because the BCCI did look the other way when it came to Twenty20 and only changed their mind after witnessing India win the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007 and followed up quickly while squashing the rebel Indian Cricket League that took precedence in terms of set up and play-for-play rules.

Gavaskar’s adamant stand that Majumdar take back his words sounded like obvious loyalty to the BCCI according to the cricket fans. Gavaskar appeared to confirm it later when he claimed that “jealousy” and that “only those who do not benefit from it (IPL), do not get anything from the IPL criticize it.”

The second outburst had the desired effect as fans were more vocal to point out that Gavaskar had been reported to have asked for four times the commentator’s fee in the course of the IPL as the betting and fixing scandal blew up.

There is little doubt that the IPL had provided a source of income for those on the periphery of the sport. But it was hard to see Gavaskar’s argument when days later the BCCI released its panel of commentators which included – Sunil and Rohan, the father and son pairing, in an unusual turn of events.

Gavaskar’s argument of IPL’s indigenous argument failed to convince fans. Why not then wait and postpone the IPL and let it be played next year? Fans and organizers asked alike, the same indigenous folk facing a bleak year of no earnings as a result of the decision to go ahead with the tournament abroad.

Why then this move to the UAE? No one was jumping from their chair to answer that question.

Manjrekar’s Commentary Capers Continue

If Gavaskar’s loyalty has been considered veering towards personally vested interests, Sanjay Manjrekar’s continuing acerbic comments suggest that the former Indian cricketer has decided to hold a take-no-prisoners approach after being snubbed by the BCCI.

Manjrekar had made repeated requests to the BCCI to be reinstated by the cricket board on the commentator’s panel after falling foul with the board and certain Indian cricketers.

Manjrekar might have had empathy from fellow commentator, Harsha Bhogle, who himself suffered the untold humiliation for being shunned briefly after it was speculated that the Indian cricketers did not like the criticism coming their way.

But Manjrekar had done the unthinkable, turning on Bhogle during the course of India’s first day and night Test at the Eden Gardens by suggesting that by default, he would know more simply by way of having played the game internationally.

While Manjrekar did speak about getting carried away in the heat of the moment, his comments about Ravindra Jadeja being a “bits and pieces” player – a term used for cricketers from England during the late 1990’s used for the sole purpose of turning around their limited overs fortunes were clearly not forgiven. Manjrekar had even pleaded to the BCCI that he would play by the rules.

But with the public snub, the fifty-five year old continues to toy. While claiming that it was better he did not comment on why he was not picked for the commentary team for IPL 2020, Manjrekar was at it once again, claiming Indians were sensitive to criticism and also, that language barrier had come in the way of his being picked.

No one had trouble reading between the lines as he baited his detractors and cricketers alike with his social media posts. One of them being:

“On bias – first few years of IPL, was alleged of being biased towards CSK – CSK 2 titles in 4 years. Last few years alleged of being biased towards MI – MI 4 titles in 7 years. Biased only towards excellence guys!”

Chennai’s Whistle Blows Ahead of Time

All smoke and no fire? The Chennai Super Kings’ attempt to throw the dogs off their scent became a futile effort as attention shifted rather quickly from the stunning news of thirteen members of their squad turning positive for coronavirus upon landing in the UAE to the exit of one of their high profile cricketers.

Suresh Raina backed his bags and left the UAE shores in haste. Allegations flew about Raina throwing tantrums over hotel rooms and treatment. Before the fire could be doused, N. Srinivasan, the owner and former BCCI boss, stoked the fire further.

Upon landing in India, a barrage of questions awaited Raina as the CSK team wasted no time in pulling him off the social media group. Furthermore, N. Srinivasan, the owner and former BCCI chief, appeared to have jumped the gun calling the cricketer as “acting like a prima donna” and that “sometimes success goes to your head.”

“A father can scold his son,” was how Raina chose to react to the argument while shedding light on a personal family tragedy as the primary reason for his return home.

While Raina has thereafter projected his interest in rejoining the team, N. Srinivasan was at it once more, calling his comments as being taken out of context and also, that Raina was a son to him but that he did not call the shots.

Fans were quick to recall from memory the last time Srinivasan found himself in the midst of a storm.

See the striking similarity to when he once claimed that Gurunath Meiyyappan, his son-in-law and the former CSK team principal, was “merely a cricket enthusiast” with access to the team dressing room and caught in the betting racket that shook the foundations of the BCCI and eventually knocked Srinivasan off his perch at the BCCI.

Harbhajan Singh added fuel to the fire, deciding to pull out of personal reasons, adding more spice to a story that was left only partially cooked.

But the bigger question is: how has this affected Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s succession plans now that he has already announced his retirement from international cricket as of 15th August, 2020?

Dhoni and the China Connection!

Patriot Dhoni was riding the controversy wave when on the virtual eve of the IPL season 13, it was announced that the former Indian captain had signed with the Chinese mobile maker, Oppo.

With the coronavirus pandemic, the incursions from the Chinese into Indian territory and increasing tensions across the LAC, the BCCI ran into hot waters right away in hosting the IPL. Their title sponsorship deal worth 2000 crore rupees with VIVO became unpalatable, with the anti-China wave riding high in public sentiment. The sponsorship was eventually suspended with few equitable takers.

To have Dhoni confirm the deal then despite his honorary post with the Indian army came as a shock to his fans.

While some expressed disbelief, others were far fetched in their view that Dhoni’s endorsement meant Chinese money was coming into the country.

What the latter failed to realize is that Dhoni is merely a face – a rather expensive one undoubtedly - for the Chinese to continue to profit from selling their merchandize in the country.

Controversies apart, once again it appears the story of the IPL 2020 might well be the case of the two most conspicuous Indian cricketers – Virat Kohli and Dhoni.

While Dhoni is teasing people with speculation over how long he plans to continue to play the IPL, Kohli is on the brink of a decision that might not necessarily be his.

Having led the Royal Challengers Bangalore for eight years, Kohli is chasing unflattering history of not having been able to take the RCB in the direction of the trophy. An uncharacteristic blip for the prolific, ambitious and successful Indian captain, Kohli might be testing the patience of his franchisees, even as gauntlet for his possible competitors at the Indian captaincy are once again being thrown from Rohit Sharma to K.L. Rahul.

The IPL 2020 might be missing the noise, the chaos and the bruhaha that typically follows this summer gypsy carnival. But it might just clarify a few pointers by the time it ends.