Cricket

India should know which tournament is more important

‘Workload’ is a popular buzzword in sport; it has been around for a while, but India’s cricket authorities have only recently latched on to it. Fast bowlers’ workloads are being ‘managed’, batsmen are given rest periodically, and bowlers are ‘rotated’. This is in keeping with modern practice.

However, it has revealed a disturbing hierarchy of importance in Indian cricket. At the top is the IPL, followed by international cricket, followed (if at all) by domestic first class cricket. After India beat Australia 4-0 in a Test series at home, Ravi Shastri, then a commentator, said on television that the series had nicely set up the IPL. So Test cricket was merely preparation for the IPL!

The Board of Control for Cricket in India and the Committee of Administrators (BCCI-COA, the most confusing governing body in international sport) are yet to decide about India’s World Cup players’ participation in the IPL, scheduled to begin just over a fortnight from now. There has to be a 15-day gap between the end of the IPL and start of India’s international commitments. This is the BCCI rule. And the next international tournament is the World Cup in England, starting on May 30.

As far back as in November last year — before the IPL auction — Cricket Australia had made it clear that Australia’s World Cup squad wouldn’t be allowed to play the final weeks of the IPL. They want the players chosen to attend a pre-tournament camp in early May. Country before club is the simple, old-fashioned message.

Cricket Australia’s interim Team Performance chief Belinda Clark said the rules were “in the interest of making Australians proud of our team”. Australian players in the IPL selected for the World Cup are expected to be released by May 2. England’s World Cup players too will leave by then. In fact, of the six top-ranked teams, only India and New Zealand haven’t announced early withdrawals of their players.

Clashing with elections

The IPL schedule released by the BCCI is only for the first two weeks, to avoid a clash with the general election (dates yet to be announced). As things stand, unless a government falls or the ruling party calls for early elections, the IPL will keep coming up against the elections in April every five years. In 2009, the BCCI took the tournament lock, stock and barrel to South Africa; in 2014, the first part was played in the UAE.

The BCCI-COA are entitled to some sympathy if its only intention is to stick to the rule while keeping the IPL franchises happy. Without knowing when the elections are to be held, it is difficult to ensure that the final takes place in time.

India’s first warm-up match, against New Zealand, is on May 25. So the IPL final will have to be played by May 10. Unless the 15-day period includes travel days in which case it will have to be earlier. And what if there is a short camp, as in Australia?

Injury concerns

The real issue, however, is not the rest period, but the active one. What if a key player is injured? What if the IPL hangover is carried into the World Cup? T20 has evolved a distinct flavour of its own, and is not a shorter version of the 50-over game. Switching from one to the other calls for both mental and technical adjustments.

The authorities will have to convince both the franchises and the television folk that withdrawing players from the later stages of the IPL is a National duty and will increase the chances of India making it the final of the bigger tournament in England.

It is a decision that should have been finalised before the auction in December, but that line of thinking must have come up against an entrenched mindset — don’t decide anything till the last minute by which time the objections might have disappeared. Juggling with dates is more attractive than juggling with franchises and television. And simpler too.

The BCCI’s acting-secretary Amitabh Chaudhary has already given everybody an out by saying in an interview that “Managing workload of players is crucial. If a player asks for more matches, he will be given more matches to play in the IPL.” So it may be up to the players, after all. Passing the buck continues to be the governing body’s favourite pastime.

So if Virat Kohli wants to play, or Jasprit Bumrah or Mahendra Singh Dhoni, it is unlikely that the BCCI-COA will insist on their withdrawal before the tournament is over. Traditionally, when the choice has been between fitness and revenue, the authorities have chosen the latter. This time they will have the support of the investors too. Unless, that is, the authorities pull out the ‘patriotism’ card, currently one of the most powerful.

It is a delicate balancing act — no one wants a World Cup diminished by injuries to some of the best players in the world. India probably have more to lose than the other teams because they are the favourites behind England.

Source: thehindu.com

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