April 15, 2022: The Indian Premier League (IPL) in its 15th year has taken a new twist. All the 10 teams, right from the auction itself, seem to strategise themselves far more professionally than ever before. The franchise owners along with their cricket consultants and support staff have been more proactive in identifying roles and tasks required to create an effective cricket squad. If the players they had identified for specific spots were not available at the auction, they went for the next in line.
One, at times, wondered as to why unproven and upcoming Indian players were much in demand and why so much money was being splurged on them to win the bid. With 24 matches having already been played in this year’s IPL, the importance of many of the unknown cricketers and the desire to own them has become self-evident.
One of the initial issues that have emerged is as to how the professional support staff and cricket advisors of each one of the franchises have thoroughly analysed both the international and domestic players — especially the ones who have been successful in the past.
Every player has a certain pattern of thinking during a critical situation that makes them feel comfortable. Every conceivable data input for each one of them would have been looked at under a magnifying glass. This is what the backroom boys and girls are good at. The success of several of the earlier successful IPL cricketers was based on not having a definite strategy to contain and choke them, which is one of the focus areas of this IPL. Some of them have, therefore, struggled to perform similarly this year.
Bowlers are being withheld so that they can bowl to specific batters, whereas, taking fewer risks by batters against certain bowlers are some clear findings. Teams seem far more at ease even if they are chasing a big total and one does not see them perturbed even if they have 20 runs to make in the last over. Players seem to be more mentally stronger than before.
The players who seem to have made a difference at the present juncture of the tournament are the ones about whom very little information is available. They are the players, both batters and bowlers, who have made a greater impact on the performance of their side. The interesting part would be whether these players would be able to sustain their performance.
The cricket messaging trail is like the monkey mail of yore. The word spreads quite rapidly as to how and where a player is susceptible. The plan to identify and unleash the demise of each one of them should be well underway. The difficulty would be to implement the strategy, due to time constraints, by the time one faces the team again. However, it will be the team that adapts quickly that will succeed.
One has to remember that in all the editions of the IPL, players have moved from one franchise to another. The game plans and the approach strategies that were thought out earlier are now no more a game changer. Most teams and players are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each other. The SWOT analysis that was the mantra for most business and sporting enterprises in the days gone by, to base their strategy on, is a thing of the past. The time is now for quick, agile, innovative and out-of-the-box thinking and implementation.
It takes one back to the famous book written by Roger Enrico on the Coke and Pepsi Cola war, “The other guy blinked”, when Pepsi got the better of Coke. The IPL warfare between all the 10 teams is such that the smallest of errors or mistakes or advantage is making a major difference in the outcome of the match.
The teams are so evenly balanced cricket-wise that the positive and mental attitude shown by players and the team is all that it takes in tilting the game in ones favour.
The two teams languishing at the bottom of the table, Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, who were champion sides of the earlier editions of the tournament, are good examples of franchises who are not thinking progressively. They opted for the tried and tested formula of going for the known rather than the unknown.
This sort of thought process in a rapidly-changing business world has been the demise of many a blue-chip company. Similarly, Chennai and Mumbai in pursuing with their old and trusted players look more like stragglers rather than a franchise that has been thought through. The experience of their squad will get them a few wins this year. However, to see them flourishing in the future would be a hard-pressed affair. Both of them have shown resilience in the past to come out of difficult situations. However, with the way the other sides are establishing their credentials, both Mumbai and Chennai have a herculean task ahead of them to qualify for the knockouts.
One gathers that this year’s auction is the last that one may see for a while and so each franchise needed to look well beyond the present situation and well into the future.
One is gradually getting to place players and teams that they represent into ones cluttered mind. However, keeping tabs on the stream of newbies who have turned the IPL 2022 into the centre stage is still a challenging affair. The most wonderful outcome is the confidence and mental toughness that some of these unknown domestic cricketers have shown. Each one of them looks to the IPL as the audition to something big in their lives. An opportunity to wear the Indian cap; hats off and the very best to all of them.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)