A pull, a cut and the big swipe

A pull, a cut and the big swipe

Love it, as most buffs do, or hate it — like the odd contrarian — but you just can't ignore the Indian Premier League.

Like a giant tidal wave sweeping everything in its path and feeding off itself, the IPL has grown manifold in the last two years, becoming a multi-billion dollar industry that has comprehensively exploited the huge financial potential of India's most popular sport.
The third edition of the IPL, back in India, is a little over a week old, but already, it threatens to smash all records — viewership- and revenue-wise. Early indications are that it will also set a dubious record, for the most injuries during the course of a single sporting competition worldwide.

Unsurprisingly, the Indian Premier League has quickly been downsized to the Injury Premier League, an exercise that has required little imagination, following injuries of varying degrees of magnitude to some of the most glittering gems in world cricket. Worryingly from an Indian perspective, among the big-name casualties are national captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and crack opener Gautam Gambhir, key components of any Indian team, whatever be the format.

Again unsurprisingly, the string of injuries that has also placed a huge question mark over the immediate future of international stars such as Graeme Smith, Dimitri Mascarenhas and Charl Langeveldt, among others, has catalysed debates about the timing of the competition.

Not unlike last year when the IPL had to perforce move to South Africa, the six and a half-week 'domestic' extravaganza immediately precedes the showpiece event of the 20-over bash, the World Twenty20 championship.

The third edition of the World Twenty20 begins in the Caribbean less than a week after the IPL final in Mumbai on April 25. At this advanced stage, with the wisdom hindsight invariably brings with it, the big question is whether it is prudent to stage an event with such high stakes immediately prior to the newest World Cup on the cricketing spectrum.
It's a question that can be answered as one deems convenient. Those that want to nitpick can query the timing, buttressing their new-found argument with the long list of injuries so far. The less tempestuous will undoubtedly point to how, a little over ten days back, the IPL was talked about as being ideal preparation for the Caribbean adventure!
Purely from an Indian point of view, never mind the injuries to Dhoni (forearm), Gambhir (hamstring) and Ashish Nehra (rib), the timing of the IPL couldn't have been any better. Of all the top-flight countries that will battle it out at the World T20, India have the least progressive and visible Twenty20 structure beyond the IPL. The intra-zonal T20 competitions were held back in September, the all-India T20 competition began at about the same time as the IPL with states forced to field second-string sides, at best.
Despite their status as inaugural Twenty20 World champions and as the possessors of the richest and most publicised 'domestic' T20 competition, India are some way short of mastering the nuances of the paciest cricketing version. Much of it has to do with singular lack of exposure to this format on a consistent basis. In that regard, the IPL and its position on the calendar vis-à-vis the World T20 has to be considered a masterstroke, no matter what.

Who is to say that Dhoni would not have been struck on his forearm at nets, or indeed that Gambhir wouldn't have done his hamstring during a practice session. Indeed, just over a month back, Smith sustained a fracture on his left little finger at training on the eve of the Kolkata Test, so to blame the IPL for his twin fractures in his right middle finger is at once both naïve and a little rich.

It must be remembered that Yuvraj Singh badly twisted his knee during a game of kho-kho during the Champions Trophy in 2006, and that Rohit Sharma twisted his ankle when the team was playing 'rocketball' on the morning of the first Test against South Africa in Nagpur last month. Injuries, as the players themselves have repeatedly pointed out, are part and parcel of the game, and must be accepted as such, irrespective of.

Extra cautious
It is possible, if not certain, that both Dhoni and Gambhir are being extra-cautious in putting a time-frame on their return to the IPL mainly because the World T20 isn't too far away.  Saying that, it needs an understanding and generous franchise owner to afford some of his best players additional rest when much hinges on results in the competition. Thankfully, the club (or, in this case, franchise) versus country imbroglio that has afflicted football for so long has yet to impinge on cricketing territory.

The IPL is still a work in progress. From next year, it will have ten teams and a possible 20 matches per team/player every season. Already, moves are afoot to ensure that no player plays more than a maximum of 14 matches, a tacit acknowledgement that there is a necessity to preserve players and to keep at bay the possible overwhelming temptation of team owners to put out their best players day in and day out.
It is likely, in some ways unavoidable perhaps, that over the next five weeks, more marquee names will attract injuries of various natures and degrees, for such is the nature of the cricketing beast. To summarily castigate the IPL will be fair neither to the event nor to the players themselves (who will then undoubtedly be accused of greed), because no sport isn't fraught without risks, no event guaranteed to be injury-free, no sporting activity a bed of roses. Not yet, at least!

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