Not for the first time, Ravichandran Ashwin becomes a part of Indian Premier League history/controversy. But in a season of surprises, none could have predicted the predicament of two previous powerhouse teams, the Chennai Super Kings and the Mumbai Indians, who now find themselves at the bottom of the barrel a third of the way through the 2022 season, bringing the glaring spotlight on Rohit Sharma this time.

Mention must first be made of Yuzvendra Chahal. Although the headlines have been going berserk over the spinner’s allegations that he was bullied in the Mumbai Indians dressing room and the franchisee must bear some responsibility for it too, the young spinner also made history, becoming the fastest Indian to 150 IPL wickets, from only 118 appearances, faster than Amit Mishra from 140 matches, Piyush Chawla from 156, Harbhajan Singh from 159 and Dwayne Bravo from 137 matches. Lasith Malinga though holds the record for the fastest ever, with 150 wickets from only 105 appearances.

While it is important to acknowledge the role of spinners who were considered easy pickings when the IPL was emerging, of greater worry are the repeated comments Chahal has made of abuse and bullying particularly at the hands of his Mumbai Indians teammates in the early stages of his career. If proven true, the charges are quite grave and must be tackled in an age when cricketers have become more vocal about mental health issues.

Chahal spoke about being hung out of a 15th floor balcony once by a drunken team mate. “This dates back to 2013,” he said. “I was with the Mumbai Indians. We had a match in Bengaluru and there was a get together after that. So there was a player who was very drunk – I was holding onto him, with my arms around his neck. If I had lost my grip, we were on the 15th floor… Suddenly many people who were there came and handled the situation. I kind of fainted, and they gave me water,” the spinner recalled.

This, it must be remembered, was in the early days of the IPL where not only was cricket showcased in a novel format but was also encouraged to become an entertainment sidekick with after-hours parties, sponsorship events, and all kinds of shoulder-rubbing that eventually exposed the underbelly of the game including honey traps, corruption and betting.

Although Chahal hasn’t named the player other than saying he was a former teammate in the Mumbai Indians camp, he did name New Zealand’s James Franklin and Australia’s Andre Symonds as the players involved in tying him up and leaving him overnight in a hotel room in 2011 following the Mumbai Indians’ victory in the now defunct IPL spinoff the Champions League.

“They were so lost that they tied my hands and legs and taped my mouth and forgot about me completely during the party. Then they all left and, in the morning, someone came to clean and saw me, and called a few others and untied me. They asked me since when I have been there and I said, ‘I’ve been here the whole night.’ So that became a funny story,” Chahal recalled.

He added that his teammates did not remember their own deeds, claiming “when you drink so much juice, you don’t remember stuff in the morning.”

“It happened in 2011, when Mumbai Indians won the Champions League. We were in Chennai. He (Symonds) had had a lot of ‘fruit juice’. I don’t know what he was thinking, but he and James Franklin got together and tied my hands and legs.”

Given the serious nature of these allegations, it’s hard to imagine that if proven true, they would be the only disturbing stories to emerge from the IPL. In the same breath it should be mentioned that while a player like Chahal might have been able to endure and overcome such incidents in order to keep playing, there may be other players who may not have had the platform or the wherewithal to speak.

Therefore the BCCI, on behalf of all custodians of the game, owes it to cricket to take these matters seriously and publicly reveal the findings of their investigation, and also devise stringent punishments that serve as a strong deterrent against this kind of dangerous behaviour.

BCCI planning to shift IPL 2021, India vs England ODI series out of  Maharashtra ' Report

In a season when it should have been about the two new teams, the Lucknow Super Giants and the Gujarat Titans, the story is fast becoming about the two workhorses and in particular the Mumbai Indians, and not least about Rohit Sharma.

The Chennai Super Kings might be ruing their lost opportunity in not outbidding the Royal Challengers Bengaluru for Faf du Plessis who was prolific for them. But they might still field the excuse of changing their skipper on tournament eve from Mahendra Singh Dhoni to Ravindra Jadeja for why the team has failed to get off the blocks, although it is hard to imagine that the change of guard was news to Chennai. It also makes one wonder whether Suresh Raina might have had the chance to captain the team if he hadn’t fallen out with N Srinivasan, who continues to pull strings behind the curtains.

But what must be equally worrisome, if not more, for regular fans is the repeated failures of the five time winners, the Mumbai Indians. It must feel like cake on the face for Rohit Sharma whose rise as India’s captain had been attributed as much to his player and team management at the Mumbai Indians which turned the ship around as to Virat Kohli’s planned downfall at the hands of Sourav Ganguly.

Now after five matches, it is no small embarrassment that the Mumbai Indians remain winless and pointless, sharing the bottom position with Chennai. Has the Virat Kohli bug bitten Rohit Sharma? because after all, one of the favourite battering rams used to hurt Kohli’s modest legacy as India captain compared with Dhoni’s was to state the fact that Kohli had not been able to get the RCB to outperform or fully utilize their potential.

While the crown has changed heads in the Indian dressing rooms, it is debatable if fortunes have as well. But Chennai and Mumbai’s misfortunes have certainly made the Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Capitals look better - though both of these teams have promised much to deliver little thus far.

There have been a lot of side shenanigans this season. The Pandya brothers, it would seem, can do nothing right. Called out for being abusive towards their own Indian teammates, Hardik in particular is copping a lot of flak despite the fact that the Gujarat Titans are doing well on the results boards.

While many have contended that the overrated player was opportunistic in his move to Gujarat where he currently leads the team, there are others who agree that his on field behaviour towards his own teammates could use a make over - drawing attention to one particular incident when he was unkind to fellow Indian teammate Mohammad Shami, who wisely chose not to react.

There are some concerns whether the IPL is instigating bad blood between players who share the same national dressing room, such as the fact that there is still no love lost between Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli, to cite just one example.

Sanju Samson set a social media precedent of sorts. The Rajasthan Royals captain unfollowed his own team on social media after it came to light that he was unhappy with how he was being represented in the context of the Rajasthan Royals. Social media offences have generally sunk under the radar despite fan protests and in this incident, the captain had to force the management to wake up and smell the coffee and reassign their social media duties.

Meanwhile there is much ambiguity on what is happening with England player Jason Roy. He pulled out of the Gujarat Titans team citing bubble fatigue but was handed a two match suspension by a Cricket Disciplinary Committee that does not share duties with the England and Wales Cricket Board, and was also handed a 2,500 pound fine for indiscipline, the grounds for which remain largely unknown.

These are strange times and South African cricket is no exception. For starters, there was the issue of the “loyalty” test for players who were expected to show up for South Africa’s tour of Bangladesh. While the limited overs series went off without a hitch, the clash of the Test series with the commencement of the IPL 2022 season was always going to shirt with player contracts and commitments.

South Africa’s Test captain Dean Elgar spoke about the issue of loyalty and has now come out of the Bangladesh tour suggesting that players such as Kagiso Rabada and Rassie van der Dussen might have sacrificed their place in the national squad given that they chose to go to India for the IPL instead of staying in Bangladesh to represent South Africa. Mark Boucher, the head coach, seemed in agreement with the captain, suggesting that the places had been voluntarily vacated.

“I don’t know if those guys are going to be selected again. That’s out of my hands,” Elgar had said of the likes of Rabada, van der Dussen, Anrich Nortje, Marco Jansen, Lungi Ngidi and Aiden Markram. Boucher stated the obvious, “They did go to the IPL and vacate their spots.”

The question is: how much water does this threat hold? After all, it is not a new proposition and the IPL has indeed gone ahead with the quid pro quo deals between the BCCI and the cricket boards in the past, if not with official blessings publicly made. Besides, given the disparity in pay, there have been suggestions that players must not be asked to pick and choose and made to pay a heavy price.

The last time such a scenario dubiously presented itself was when the Indian Cricket League came into force, and the players who played in it were banned rather reluctantly by their respective boards from representing their countries under pressure from the BCCI. On that occasion, Lalit Modi and company managed to arm twist the ICL into shutting down, while retaining some of the salient features for the IPL inception, the players paying a huge price by the time the rule was reversed.

Given that boards such as South Africa are not only suffering from talent drain but are also financially cash strapped, it remains to be seen how much tension the wire can take before it snaps. The crossroads are coming, for the management as well as the players.

Once again Ravichandran Ashwin finds himself in the middle of controversy. Although his team was quick to come to his rescue to state that the decision for the player to retire hurt/out was a team decision that allowed Riyan Parag to come and play his shots, it does raise the issue of sly tactical ploys that would allow teams to deploy the “retired out” model to infuse a sense of urgency into the game by bringing fresher players to the crease.

“It’s about being Rajasthan Royals. We keep trying different things. Have been talking about it before the season,” Samson bragged after the match as Ashwin retired after 18.2 overs and Parag’s six allowed the Royals to overcome the Lucknow Super Giants by three runs in a thrilling finish.

Ashwin’s teammate at the crease, Shimron Hetmyer, claimed to have no knowledge about the decision. Ashwin’s contribution of 28 runs from 23 balls helped rebuild the team’s innings alongside Hetmyer who scored 59 runs from 36 balls for the fifth wicket partnership.

While other teams can afford to gamble, all eyes are on the Mumbai Indians. Can Rohit Sharma pull the rabbit out of the hat with his bat and with his captaincy? That remains the burning question at this stage of the IPL. The under-fire-until-recently Virat Kohli can afford to kick back and watch this one from the sidelines for a change, as his Team India teammate finds himself pretty much in the same rocking boat that was once his bane.