India have been playing non-stop T20 cricket since January. Even though exciting and unpredictable, too much of a good thing can make you bored
It was fascinating to see two young kids from Rahul Dravid’s ‘gurukul’ stitching together an unbroken 72-run partnership and taking Delhi Daredevils over the line against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Rishabh Pant, 18, and Sanju Samson, three years his senior, took on Hyderabad’s seam-bowling might in contrasting styles. The younger man was the aggressor. Samson’s batting was more cultured. And how well they complemented each other to present one of the rare highlights of this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL)!
Let’s face it. This edition of the tournament is yet to capture fans’ imagination, both in terms of TV viewership and stadium attendance. Too many lop-sided contests, lack of batting or bowling innovations and a dearth of quality new faces—the likes of Pant, Murugan Ashwin or Mustafizur Rahman have been exceptions—directly affected a popularity downfall.
The suspension of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals didn’t help matters. Both teams had very strong fan bases, but they were rightly handed the punishment they deserved. Their replacements, Rising Pune Supergiants and Gujarat
Lions, joined the party late and didn’t have much time to reach out to new fans. But the biggest reason for a flat IPL this term has to be the T20 overdose.
India have been playing non-stop T20 cricket since January. Three matches in Australia followed by another three-match home series against Sri Lanka. A high-profile Asia Cup came close on its heels before the marquee World T20. The shortest format of the game doesn’t have the nuances and intrigue of Test cricket, but it’s very exciting and unpredictable, where things move in the fast lane. But too much of a good thing can make you bored.
Who knows, all those legal issues might have had a negative effect as well. The Bombay High Court rapped the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) over ‘a criminal waste’ of water for the IPL matches in Maharashtra before moving the May fixtures out of the drought-hit state.
“What do you think has been happening for the last nine-ten years? It’s always something or the other cropping up before or during the IPL. Yes, it’s a soft target,” the legendary Sunil Gavaskar reportedly voiced his displeasure. “It’s a serious issue and the fact that so many people are dying because of a shortage of water is serious, but linking it to IPL will trivialise it. How can a drought be as important as cricket? If not having IPL will solve the problem, then we should stop playing cricket,” Rahul Dravid, too, reportedly agreed. Looks like the tournament is still bearing the brunt of the 2013 fixing scandal. And to be fair, the BCCI did very little to restore IPL’s credibility until the judiciary intervened.
Move on to the Supreme Court, where the Indian cricket board appears to be hanging on for dear life. It doesn’t want an absolute implementation of the well-documented (and well-intentioned) Lodha Committee report on the organisation’s structural overhaul.
Cricket officials say in unison that the change would be against the ‘very fabric’ of the BCCI. The apex court, however, has categorically mentioned that it would prevent all attempts to ‘filibuster’ or ‘prolong’ the much-needed reforms in the administration of cricket in India. Now, Shashank Manohar, an eminent lawyer, has jumped ship to become the International Cricket Council’s (ICC’s) first-ever independent chairman, where he will have an unbroken five-year stint. Life would be peaceful without legal wrangles.
Coming back to the IPL and its popularity dip, by the time this article goes to print, you would know if Royal Challengers Bangalore are still in contention or have fizzled out. Their departure from the group stage would mean the exit of Virat Kohli and a further slide in the fans’ interest level. Kohli is the shining light of the tournament with 568 runs from 10 matches. But more than the statistics, his batting of late has become a template for aesthetic ascription. The star-studded Bangalore, however, have collectively failed to perform and it would be a shame if the combined ineptitude thwarts the captain’s genius.
MS Dhoni’s Pune are already out and it doesn’t augur well for the tournament either. The team has been marred by injures, but strangely Dhoni’s captaincy is being scrutinised.
Pune coach Stephen Fleming tried to put things in perspective. “It’s true. But public takes a lot of interest in the fortunes of the teams so they can over-analyse teams’ performances and individual contribution. But it was a big challenge to bring another group together. You have to get to know people very quickly and, not only that, you have to get your combination right. How players perform. Having them work together in a team is a much different dynamic. It’s been challenging. Probably, the batting has been
passable, but we struggled a bit in bowling under different conditions. We had to work hard. When your captain is looking to get everything out of your team, you push very hard. Obviously, he had a very settled Indian side and Chennai side. This has been a good challenge. Some ways we have enjoyed (it).”