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T20 World Cup 2021 | Is the IPL hurting India’s limited-overs performance?

It is players from abroad who benefit from coming to play the IPL, but Indian cricketers don’t gain from sharpening their skills by playing cricket abroad.

November 08, 2021 / 09:07 PM IST
Illustration by Suneesh K.

Illustration by Suneesh K.

The lopsided losses to Pakistan and New Zealand in the ongoing T20 World Cup may have come as a shock to Indian fans, but even a cursory look at the team’s performance over the last 10 years shows that the results aren’t entirely unexpected. India's showing in limited-overs cricket has been quite average for some years now. The last major trophy it won was the 50-over World Cup in 2011 and the last time it won the T20 World Cup was way back in 2007.

In the five editions of the tournament since then, India has mostly flattered to deceive, coming close to winning only in 2014 when it lost the finals to Sri Lanka. In 2009, 2010 and 2012 it was knocked out early while in 2016 it lost to West Indies in the semis.

For a nation that hosts the most successful T20 league in the world, that’s actually a shocking record. As the former England skipper Michael Vaughan tweeted: “For all the talent & depth in #India cricket they under achieved massively for years in white ball Cricket”.

To be fair, in this time the team’s performance in Tests has been excellent, notwithstanding the loss to New Zealand in the finals of the World Test Championship. Series wins in Australia and the showing in the four Tests in England earlier this year, cap an excellent run particularly outside the subcontinent, the bane of Indian teams in the past.

All this while, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has grown in strength, both commercially and also in terms of getting the best players across the world (except from Pakistan). In that sense it is to cricket what the English Premier League (EPL) is to football.

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The globalisation of the game through both these leagues was expected to strengthen the hosting countries’ national teams. It hasn’t turned out that way. England hasn’t won a major football tournament since its World Cup win in 1966. Indeed, after the revamped EPL was launched in 1992, its performance has been woeful. The Premier League is considered both a major commercial as well as sporting success. At the last World Cup in Russia, the largest number of players were from the league. Yet, English clubs have won the Champions League, a symbol of club supremacy in Europe, only six times in the last 30 years.

Playing with the world's best players, at home, clearly isn't enough to win when away from it.

A similar story has played out with respect to IPL and the Indian team’s performance. Barring 2009 when the IPL was moved to South Africa owing to the General election and this year, Indian players have always gone to the T20 World Cup having played together at home in friendly conditions.

That might have been counterproductive. Effectively, just as happens in the EPL, it is players from abroad who benefit from coming to play the IPL but Indian players don’t gain from sharpening their skills by playing abroad.

Many years ago, a writer in the Bleacher Report called the Premier League “a bloated, greedy, self-serving organisation with zero interest in the national team”. That’s probably going too far. But when you look at the jaded players, tired from their month-long exertions in this year’s hyphenated tournament, you have to wonder if that applies to the IPL as well.

The England tour before the tournament had been tough and tiring. Barely had the players got a chance to get their breath back that they were flown to the UAE for the World Cup. Jasprit Bumrah was absolutely justified in complaining “Sometimes you need a break.” But for the Indian cricket board, IPL is the gravy train that must be kept running at all times. For that, players are being forced to place the demands of the franchise over national duty.
Sundeep Khanna is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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