24 January 2021 08:11 PM

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SREELATA S.YELLAMRAZU | 24 NOVEMBER, 2020

Lessons from the IPL in the Pandemic

The bottom line is important.


In a year when most major sporting events were either postponed or cancelled, the Indian Premier League 2020 will go down in history as one of the rare successfully staged tournaments. In doing so, it has provided a few obvious, rather telling insights into the sport and the mindset of those that run the show.

The bottom line is important.

What gets priority is what pays the bills. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) made it evident, negotiating as it did to shuffle around a few engagements and rearrange others and in some cases, simply waiting for a few pieces of the puzzles so they could then be ready to carry forward their agenda.

It was quite remarkable how the BCCI stayed out of the whole Cricket Australia- International Cricket Council standoff over the staging of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup slated for October this year. Neither committing to a swap next year or making a vote either way, the BCCI kept its lines open, moving around its few assignments and making possible a window for the IPL to be staged, albeit in a foreign country eventually when it became apparent there was no way the IPL could be staged in India with spectators.

But they still had to jump through the hoops as the IPL franchisees had their say, refusing to compromise with a leaner team, without the foreigner cricketers to make it an all Indian league, although eventually consenting to playing abroad, without their loyal base fans in tow. A telling time as any to reveal that the Indian Premier League could have more appropriately be labelled the International Premier League.

Super Over: Getting it Right

One of the reasons the IPL has done as well as it has done is that it has stuck to not tampering with the rules too much, sticking to maintaining world class cricket through quality cricketers and keeping it fairly simple, on the field anyway.

There is validity in trying out rules at the domestic cricket stage instead of introducing it directly at the level of international cricket. The controversial boundary count clause to the Super Over rule became the talking point of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in England. After New Zeaalnd were surpassed and England awarded the trophy, the public hue and cry went through the roof.

The belated decision to change the super over rule such that a tied match with a subsequent tied super over would be decided by another super over came into play in an IPL season where close matches became an even more interesting affair, the result being a more acceptable decision that fans and teams on both sides considered fair. If only logic had prevailed in the first place, or as New Zealand would say, before 2019.

Quarantine? No Problem.

It depends on who is paying, apparently.

It is interesting that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) salvaged much of its international cricket by arranging at great cost a bio secure environment that made possible for visiting teams to come over. That this as a template, is not feasible, financially or logistically for some of the other teams around the world is another matter altogether.

In that sense, the cricketers still felt they had a choice in what they chose to pick and play in a year when cricket as virtually shut down for more than 100 days.

So, while the Indian Premier League had foreign cricketers lining up even before a revised date could be announced, it is interesting that Australian cricketers such as Steve Smith have turned down their own homegrown Big Bash League, citing the mental health effects of continuing to play in a bubble.

It stands to reason that the IPL is by far the most lucrative Twenty20 format tournament anywhere around the world, with players commanding fees in the million and upwards.

It is a virtual no brainer how much cricketers are willing to sacrifice their time away from family, particularly with extended quarantine days now ahead and after a tour or tournament, that they would pick those that they are either bound to as part of their national duty or those where they stand to make a fair amount of money, particularly when they do not know how long this might go on.

Club: the weapon of choice.

Does club cricket take precedence? Or was it used a weapon to prove or rather disprove a point?

The verdict is divided on this, though this is a major eye brow raiser. Rohit Sharma, captain of the Mumbai Indians, was not in a mood to accept the fact that the Indian selectors had ruled him out of India’s tour of Australia, attributing it to the hamstring tear he sustained in the course of the IPL 2020.

The problem arose when those involved with Indian cricket were served egg on their face as the Mumbai Indians posted video after video showing Sharma participating in net sessions to the point. The captain even returned after missing three matches to play the final inconsequential match in the round robin stage, as if making a point about his fitness.

Eventually despite statements from the BCCI chief, Sourav Ganguly, and the Indian coach, Ravi Shastri, that Rohit could aggravate his injury according to the Indian team physio, the selectors had little choice but to include Sharma at the late hour.

The question was: could this not have happened before, with the team choosing to name a replacement at a later date if so necessary given how far the tour was?

It led to enough speculation that the Virat Kohli-Rohit Sharma cold war is well alive and only a possible paternity leave for Kohli might have prompted the eventual call up.

The debate remains though about whether players are prioritizing club cricket – was it important for Rohit to be the face when the Mumbai Indians picked up their fifth trophy – or whether the IPL was the vehicle for the player to prove a point after he was left out.

Stagnancy is the death knell.

One of the reasons the Mumbai Indians were as successful as they have been is that they have enough firepower.

Despite Sharma, Quinton de Kock, hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard, the Mumbai Indians also had Ishan Kishan and Suryvakumar Yadav, making their team more flexible, dexterous when it came to pocketing runs.

In contrast, the other strong contender of the IPL, the Chennai Super Kings, suffered visibly right from the outset with the captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, himself showing leaden feet when it came to flexibility about his position in the batting order.

This had become imperative after problems beset the camp early in the UAE and Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh out of the team under mysterious circumstances.

Through the season, while the likes of Faf du Plessis showed enterprise in the batting order as well as with some extraordinary catches on the boundary, he was the only representative from the old guard having any impact on the match.

Even Shane Watson’s solitary remarkable innings failed to ignite the Chennai team and even though the points table might show them to be a less shambolic effort, nothing could be further from the truth. The writing was on the wall: the Chennai Super Kings needs to off load in a hurry before the 2021. But will that include the captain? Seems unlikely.

Think before you Drop.

The Delhi Capitals had a phenomenal run right through. It would have been an epic story if they managed to bulldoze the Mumbai Indians. But that is what they would have needed – a bulldozer – to push the dominant team off their perch.

One of the most stunning decisions taken off the field seemed to come back to haunt them. There is always a tricky and usually a strategic decision for why some players are let go from some teams and other players are bought by other teams. The Delhi Capitals would have been left scratching their heads not only with their decision to drop Trent Boult but also, to trade it rather surprisingly to arguably the strongest team in the tournament.

The Mumbai Indians tend to pay big bucks and for good reason. Picking Boult off the Capitals, the Mumbai Indians rammed home the point in the worst way possible for the Delhi team as Boult dented the Capitals’ run with a three wicket first over that virtually decimated their campaign in the first qualifier.

It is hard to say what great impact the Delhi Capitals might have had if they had Boult alongside Kagiso Rabada in a season when the pacers had a terrific impact. But while this was the most prominent shock decision, there were a few rueful decisions running the rank and file of the franchisees as the season came to the end, with all teams scoring double digit scores for the first time.

Only the bottomline matters.

If there was one criticism hanging in the air was that coming from the women’s cricketers, both, Indian and abroad. While the men’s tournament is now an established entity in its own right, the women’s cricket knew they had been handed a raw deal by the pandemic and then by the powers that be.

For one, the idea that even someone considered an unconventional but dynamic captain in his time, Sourav Ganguly, would suggest that the women’s game was two years away from having their own IPL seems like a missed boat particularly when the women’s game was on a stupendous run before the pandemic hit.

The IPL has copped a lot of flak, particularly that money – lavishly spent in order to be earned back exponentially, was the reason that made this possible to begin with. The balance in terms of the men’s and women’s game might have taken the cake in what has already been a rather extraordinary effort overall. It is quite astounding that the women’s game is being told they need to show the money before they can claim a stake. It could be countered: how can they prove their worth if they are not on show yet?
 

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