The Indian Premier League (IPL) is thankfully out of the blocks in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This is a precursor to the T20 World Cup that will follow. The initial matches have already shown that players are still unfamiliar with the conditions prevalent in the Middle-East. The hot and humid conditions are only one of the issues. The wickets, although with plenty of grass on them, are still not the perfect setting for a seamer.
The initial matches have shown that although the wicket seems to be playing in favour of the batter, the scores do not suggest it. This could be because the batsmen are still trying to understand the conditions, in this case the slow and spongy bounce of the wicket. This is precisely the reason why players who will be a part of their national side in the T20 World Cup, will have an edge over the players who are not participating in the IPL. One is, therefore, amazed as to why some players have opted out as the IPL is a perfect setting for them.
The game between Rajasthan Royals and Punjab Kings mirrored the uncertainty of T20 cricket. The Punjab side looked to have the match in their bag with 5 runs to get in the final over and with 8 wickets in hand, the uncertainty of cricket came into play. Rajasthan winning by 2 runs was pretty amazing. Kartik Tyagi, a 20-year-old young pacer from Uttar Pradesh was the star of the evening. The bowler showed immense maturity and a very good temperament to remain cool even while bowling his last delivery. The IPL has become a fantastic platform for these young talents to shine and showcase their abilities, which normally would have never ever been brought to the fore in domestic cricket.
Similarly, a 21-year-old Rajasthan player born in Nagaur, Mahipal Lomror’s fiery knock strewn with mighty hits would have not seen the light of day. Both these youngsters, along with the consistent young Maharashtra player playing for Chennai Super Kings, Ruturaj Gaikwad, have shown that India has a pool of talent, each one vying to play for their country. The IPL is similar to the popular TV Reality shows that one sees around the world like ‘Britain has talent’ or ‘The American Idol’ that have unearthed phenomenal artists. The IPL has done this for Indian cricket. In the melee of cricket entertainment, it has brought to life Indian cricketing gems. Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Sanju Samson, T. Natarajan and many more are some who came into prominence because of the product — the IPL.
Unfortunately, the T20 format, enjoyable as it is, gives rise to doubts about it being riddled with illegal betting, match fixing and spot fixing. There have been incidents in the past that have brought such activities into the open but in the tight security bubble that the present teams are confined by, on account of the Covid virus, every movement of a player is strictly monitored. One, therefore, should understand that cricket scores and results have always been uncertain and the pressures can affect individuals and teams a lot.
The Punjab Kings’ all-rounder, Deepak Hooda, is being recently checked by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), all because of an Instagram message. This is where the present cricketers have to be tutored on a regular basis. They are a young vibrant lot who suddenly find themselves on centre stage. Expecting them to behave like experienced and matured individuals is asking for a lot.
One finds similar behaviour patterns in the way the young batters construct their innings. They seem to be more concerned about pleasing the viewers and the franchisees by trying to come forth with an innings that can be remembered. The only way they can do this is by a quick-fire knock rather than a thoughtful one. This all boils down to the practice sessions that one has witnessed. The young brood are made to hit a six off every third ball. Therefore, when they come in to bat in a match, they naturally want to emulate what they had been told to do so in the nets. This may work when they play an average bowler but to try and do it against good International bowlers does become a problem.
One feels sorry that the present young cricketers are getting totally bogged down by so much of advice from their coaches and support staff. One can well understand why some of them have stopped thinking and planning their own innings as none of them want to go against the men who make their lives.
The Virat Kohli statement of retiring from T20 captaincy for his country and his IPL franchise came as quite a blow. This would be the time one would have expected him to focus on just one issue and that was to win the T20 World Cup for India. He may have had reasons to do so, but the timing of the announcement, one felt, was not right. One can understand the pressure that Kohli is being subjected to by his phenomenal following. Each of them wants him to achieve success every time he takes to the field and break every cricket record that comes his way. He too, may be feeling that the burden of captaincy which was earlier his tonic to help him concentrate and do better may have become a drag on him mentally. One hopes this will not be the case in Royal Challengers Bangalore’s quest to win their first-ever IPL title or for India to win the T20 World Cup.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer)