Finally, it feels like an Indian Premier League

Finally, it feels like an Indian Premier League

KL Rahul. Credit: Sportzpics

Despite providing copiously, the Indian Premier League has historically been criticised for being less about homegrown talent and more about pandering to a systemic ‘foreign fetish’. Still-lingering traits of colonisation, some called it.  

There is a case to be made for those who judged the tournament so because the likes of Brendon McCullum, AB de Villiers, David Warner, Lasith Malinga and an array of West Indian showmen have made the league their personal playground to impress upon their short-form talent. 

Expectedly, their stocks rose and they went onto hog the spotlight, unwittingly shadowing those of the local variety more often than not. But the premise of the league has always been about providing Indian stars and hopefuls with a yardstick to strive for in their own backyard. Where an absolute unknown can match up against the best in the business and live a reality so obscure it must be surreal. ‘Exposure’ is the USP.    

While IPL’s life-altering platform is chronicled ad nauseam, still - 13 years on - one cannot overstate how influential the league has been in reconstituting the fabric of cricket. And should what has unfolded this season (so far) be viewed in isolation, it will reiterate the extent to which Indian cricket has benefitted from a tournament often chided for being only about the glitz and the glamour.  

Eight out of the top ten highest individual scores this season have come from Indians, including four out of the five centuries so far. Seven out of the top ten run-getters are Indians, and the three foreigners who have come up with the runs needed to break into the top-ten list have only barely done so.

In the top wicket-takers list, only four from home found their names in a roll, and four out of the top 10 ‘best bowling-figures in an innings’ were scripted by Indians. Which is an anomaly in itself because historically Indian bowlers have done better than the batsmen. While not an absolute statistic to ascertain this fact, a look at the ‘Purple Cap’ holders since 2008 shows that five years have yielded Indian toppers, while only three have managed ‘Orange Cap’ honours so far.     

Of course, the ratio of Indians to foreign players (2:1) is bound to increase the odds of numerical success, but that doesn’t quite explain why this season - unlike every single one in the past - local names - batsmen in particular - have tilted the spotlight towards them.  

One of the noticeable differences is that Indian batsmen have not looked to emulate those from foreign shores with their penchant for experiments. Instead, they have relied on what comes naturally to them. While the ramps, the scoops and such are infectious, Virat Kohli forged new ground by being among the most successful in the tournament by rarely veering from his version of textbook cricket. 

An entire generation now understands that you don’t need to clear the stadium to rack up the runs, capitalising on angles is going to get you just as far and maybe further since you aren’t taking nearly as many risks. 

In abiding by these principals, KL Rahul is on top of the list with 595 runs in games at an average of 59.50. Shikhar Dhawan, who raced to the second spot in two innings comprising hundreds each, is the most ‘unorthodox’ Indian batsman on the list which also features Shreyas Iyer, Shubman Gill and, of course, Kohli.

Conventionalism aside, these names have been around long enough to desensitise themselves enough to focus on the job at hand. Also, the prevailing pandemic has eliminated crowds, enforced bio-bubbles and reduced general off-field interactions, meaning the cricketers have no reason to zone out. 

It’s a tough mental ask across 50-plus days, but when you’re earning enough in two months what most can’t in a lifetime, it is a small price to pay. 

Moreover, franchisees across the board have begun to trust Indian talent. Earlier, squads were built around big foreign names and their heavy price tags, and while it worked a charm sometimes, it often didn’t justify the costs amassed. Thus, managements looked homewards to fully capitalise on the pool of yet-to-blossom talents. 

Extending, this year saw six Indian captains at the helm, and though it is now down to five after Dinesh Karthik handed over his role to Eoin Morgan, it’s a wonderful sign of faith. 

That said, it will be a while before Indian coaches - as Kings XI Punjab coach Anil Kumble duly observed in being the only Indian chief across eight teams - are taken seriously, but the league has continued to evolve and wash away some of the not-so-Indian narratives over the years. In that certainty, there is reason to believe that it will be an entirely made-by and for India product someday.