One of the things football managers in major European clubs fret about is the international break. Their top players are taken away for national duty and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. As much money and fame the footballers earn with their respective clubs, their heart still beats strong for their nations. Doing well for their country gives them a sense of pride, satisfaction and fulfillment.
For managers though, it means their prized property is at the hands of somebody else. Will the player be looked after properly? Can the player, who is nurtured with utmost care at the club, be taken care of similarly in the intervening period? What if the player picks up an injury, especially in the final phases of the season where every point matters?
The build-up to this season’s Indian Premier League has been caught in a somewhat similar ‘club vs country’ conundrum as the showpiece ICC World Cup (May 30 to July 15) follows right after. With India having a packed international calendar, BCCI had no choice but to stage the IPL in the current dates. The World Cup, without a shadow of doubt, is the biggest sporting event this year for cricketers and the one which every competing nation would be striving to win. Teams have been planning their squads and strategies for four years, all in preparation for the big bash.
Things though are very different this year. Most teams will have to part with their players for the majority of the IPL, raising questions about the timing of the cash-rich T20 event that will culminate just a fortnight before the World Cup. Indian skipper Virat Kohli has even gone on record saying he would love his fast bowlers to be adequately rested and even requested his batsmen not to pick up bad habits. “World Cup happens once in four years while we play IPL every year,” remarked Kohli, the most expensive player and captain of Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Kohli, who missed a part of the 2017 IPL while recovering from a shoulder injury in a bid to be completely fit for the ensuing Champions Trophy, is indeed right about his apprehensions. What if one of Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami — who form arguably one of the best fast-bowling units in the world — get injured in the two-month long IPL. That would severely dent India’s World Cup prospects. Same with other countries whose premier players will be in action.
With the schedules being extremely packed this year, owing to the World Cup and even the general elections, players will have very little time to rest and recuperate. Add the punishing Indian summer, the toll on the players can be huge. There is a three-week gap between the end of IPL and India’s first match in the World Cup, and one would agree it’s an adequate rest to get rejuvenated. But problem arises if a player picks up an injury.
That’s exactly why there’s been so much talk recently about work-load management. Coaches have gone on record saying that since they’ve been internationals at some stage in their careers, they would be sympathetic if a player wishes to sit out of a few games. How practical will that be in practice remains to be seen.
Having said that, there are plenty of positives too of playing in a tournament as big as the IPL just before the World Cup. Preparatory tests are a common practice before board exams and players couldn’t have hoped for anything better than IPL. Yes, the duration is long but the best cricketers of the world will be in action and testing your skills against such high-quality players is the best way to stay in the loop.
Some countries are yet to finalise their World Cup squads following several trials and the IPL presents a great opportunity for players to make an impression. Let’s take Ambati Rayudu as an example. The middle-order batsmen shot back into national spotlight following a superb IPL outing last year and just when it seemed like he had buttoned down his ticket for England, he endured a poor series in the just-concluded series against Australia. Some pundits feel he doesn’t inspire much confidence despite an average of 47.05 but a strong showing for CSK again may just brighten his chances. Players like Vijay Shankar, Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant, all in the battle for the middle-order slot, know a good IPL makes the UK visa a lot easier to get.
IPL will also see the return of Steve Smith and David Warner. Having spent more time at home than cricket grounds, the duo will be looking at IPL to get back into the groove. Both are crucial to Australia’s title defence and will be gunning for a strong outing to show what the Aussies and the world missed in the last year.
IPL also throws up several close matches which test players’ nerve. With raucous crowds forming a backdrop for nearly all games, players will be better off competing in such games than bowling at ‘nets’ or resting.
Opinions are still divided about IPL before the World Cup. The length, brutal Indian summer and injuries are some of the concerns but the chance to compete with the best, an opportunity to hit form and build momentum towards World Cup mask those negatives.