March 31, 2023: The curtain rises for the 16th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). The glamour and buzz that surrounds it, both on and off the field, truly amplifies that it has actually become the premier cricket league in the world.
Since its glorious inception in 2008, the property has grown by leaps and bounds. Cricket as a sport, thereafter, has grown expeditiously and has captured millions of eyeballs. The T20 format, which was once scoffed at by conventional followers, has brought about modernity, spark and youthfulness. The wonderful extension that has arisen from the quick, fast-paced limited-overs version is the way in which it has seeped into bettering the longer version of the game i.e. Test cricket. Teams around the world have become result oriented and one is seeing a far more positive approach to the game.
The IPL has introduced a few innovative changes in this year’s tournament. The toss, because of the dew factor, did at times assist one who happened to win it and so announcing the final eleven after it, is in itself quite an important change. The ‘Impact’ player option does put that extra spice into the game. Specialists, from all walks of life, are encouraged by taking a cue from the replacement of a player in football, an extra bowler or batter will always be a handy option for a side. The challenge will be to get the right combination in place.
However, for a cricketer, many of who have spent hours warming the bench, unable to fit into a playing eleven, this would be an ideal opportunity to make an impact. The importance of this change is that two more cricketers from each side could get to play.
The only area that one can fault the IPL is in the tournament format. One does understand the paucity of time to complete the tournament in the window that the BCCI is given in the World cricket calendar. However, breaking the 10 teams into groups does not augur well. The old format of all-play-all home and away is the only way in which to have an even contest.
Playing four of the teams from one’s group twice and one random team from the other group, maybe the only option this year, however, one hopes it changes, thereafter. The team that one plays against becomes a sort of lucky draw. The World Test championship is another example of it. The test of a true winner is only authenticated, once all teams have an equal opportunity to play against it.
Gujarat may have won the 2022 edition of the IPL and could, under the leadership of Hardik Pandya, repeat the feat. The T20 format is one in which identifying a winner is extremely difficult.
In the past 16 years, the amount of T20 cricket that has been played has brought about a reasonable understanding by all the franchise-based teams of how to plan and approach it. The area where one falters is in the execution.
This is where the form of a player plays a massive part. The uncertainty of the game makes it impossible for one to be certain as to how to approach it. This, therefore, requires a continuous change of plans and a flexible approach to every ball that is bowled. The fatigue that a player encounters is not just physical but mental as well. The coverage that the game receives through the multi-media channels of viewership, has made each player be on his toes at all times. A player is a showpiece every moment and a blemish becomes a huge issue. This tense situation, although for a relatively short time in a game of cricket, can be very draining and exhausting.
The pressure of performance for the senior players and the ones who have a heavy price on their heads can be unnerving. This is the professionalism of the highest order, where one avoids the famous saying, “you snooze, you lose”. Success and winning are all that matters, it is “we pay you to perform”.
One fails to see how the franchise’s think tank seems to ignore players who may not have the muscle strength to hit every ball out of the park, but the subtlety of placing it precisely. One feels the concept of slogging may look attractive, however, consistency and class somehow are not being appreciated.
One definite change that batters will imitate is the success that Suryakumar Yadav has shown while playing his masterly innings and strokes in matches earlier. It will be an area that one looks forward to as playing shots 360 degrees around the ground is a very thrilling innovation.
The 10 franchises have seven foreign coaches and three Indians. The champion domestic coach, Chandrakant Pandit, will be spearheading Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), whereas Sanjay Bangar will lead Royal Challengers Bangalore and Ashish Nehra is in charge of Gujarat Titans.
The Titans roared to victory in 2022 in their very first year and Nehra proved to be very astute and smart in the way he controlled his squad.
The fight to be recognised as a champion coach is something one is quite looking forward to. Handling a side that has players from different walks of life and getting them to perform the way one wants them to is a challenging assignment. Coming out successful would be a fabulous feat.
Coach or team, winning is all that matters.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)