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India tour of England 2014: Is IPL really the cause of India’s woes abroad?

Is IPL the real villain of Indian cricket? © Getty Images
As usual, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been accused of being a cause for India’s poor performance © Getty Images

There has been the usual outrage in India after the defeats in England. Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) must go, coach must go, captain must go. Of late to make it more holistic, there have been cries that the IPL is the fount of greed preventing Test match performances and it should go as well. Ramesh Soundararajan wonders whether that is a correct observation.

Bishen Singh Bedi has identified The Indian Premier League (IPL) as the primary reason for India doing badly against England. In 1974, India traveled to England and lost 0-3. A side including Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Viswanath and Bedi got blown away for 42 in one of the tests. There was no IPL in 1974, but still IPL must go.

Stuart Broad and James Anderson together have 600 test wickets. India played Australia in Australia in 1999-2000. Australia had two world class bowlers; Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. India were beaten 0-3. There was no IPL then, but still IPL must go.

India lost 1-3 in a five-Test series. Since 1932, India has played 13 five-Test series abroad. They have won one. Of the remaining 12, this series was only the third in which India have won at least one test. India also lost their last three five-Test series in India; Against the West Indies, England and Pakistan. There was no IPL in the 80s, but still the IPL must go.

In the infamous Sydney test of 2007-08, India collapsed in the last two sessions of the match to lose the test. While trying to save a test, India lost six wickets to spinners; Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke. Can anybody call them spinners, without prefixing part-time in front? There was no IPL then, but still Moeen Ali has been picking up wickets because the IPL has affected the technique of Indian batsmen; IPL must go.

Let us go through the score card for the five Tests. Consider the dismissals of the following batsmen; Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane. You will find caught behind, LBW, Caught at slip, caught at gully, run out, caught and bowled. Of the 50 dismissals, just one was caught in the outfield, when Ajinka Rahane was trying to deposit a long hop and missed; these are dismissals of batsmen outfoxed; technique exposed. Trying to flick, cover drive or straight drive or just defend or leave. Not dismissals created by impatient batsmen trying to open up their stance and pull a six as in IPL. But IPL must go.

In 2013, Virat Kohli was third in aggregate in the IPL and fifth in batting average. In 2014, he was 19th in aggregate and 39th in averages. Early signs of a player getting into/ getting out of form? Incidentally, no active India batsman figured in the top 10 aggregate of IPL 2014; Averages were headed by MS Dhoni, who had gone on to make four half centuries in England. Is the IPL a vehicle for predicting batting form or the cause of poor form?  We do not know for sure, but the IPL must go!

Not many people remember where they were when India won a series in England last time. However most cricket fans know where they were when India won the World Cup in 1983 and 2011. Tests are great, but color shirt cricket produces its own lasting memories. Since the IPL started, India have won a 50 overs World Cup, 50 overs Champions Trophy and made it to the finals of a T20 World cup. Does having a premier league contribute to such success? Or we don’t care, but the IPL must go?

The average Englishman is 38 years old. Average Aussie is 37 years old. But the average Indian is only 25 years old. The 25 year old man in the city can watch on TV, NBA basketball, ATP/WTA tennis, EPL/ Bundesliga/La Liga football as well as Formula one racing. Sports that take two to four hours can be watched after office/ in a pub and offer a simple narrative after a tiring day at work. Appreciate the game, celebrate winning but not be emotionally into the outcome. Will cricket be able to compete with such sports, without having a format that offers similar benefits? IPL seems custom designed for it and has done well enough to even impact blockbuster Bollywood releases. However, experts feel IPL is the cause of all team India failures and so IPL must go.

As a friend said, real football fans watch club football. Real cricket fans watch international cricket. Recently a large number of people migrated into football for the world cup; not serious, but interested. Similarly a lot of people across demographics and gender migrate into cricket during the IPL. This helps the game to be financially competitive, but Michael Vaughan thinks otherwise and so IPL must go.

Cricket in India, has now moved to the heartland. While it is fashionable for us to bemoan the batting technique of Dhoni and all techniques of Ravindra Jadeja, let us also remember that they are far bigger role models for playing cricket. People from simple backgrounds, who have become wealthy due to their ability to hit sixes. In the last 20 years, maybe 15 people have played in the middle order for India in Tests.

Probably 500-1000 batsman plied their wares in the Ranji Trophy in the same period. A 0.1% conversion stat is frightening. But for the average player, there are hopes now that he can bat well and at least shine in a season or two of IPL; there is space for 50-75 aspirants now, as against one or two every year. One might fault the reality show format of the event, but unless such an avenue is provided, the heartland might move to other activities that deliver more money. The cities are already weak in playing and if the heartland also moves away what future does cricket have in India?

Millions of engineers in India work in software companies. Whenever an industrial or construction calamity happens, no one blames the engineers saying that they are not working for the country, but doing software maintenance for money. They are contributing as long as they do software well; similarly let us identify how to improve the technique of top batsmen so that they can handle any condition. For India to be a cricketing superpower, we need to consistently deliver across all formats. Blaming the IPL for long term shortcomings, systemic failures and simple loss of form and asking for its cancellation does not serve any purpose.

It may have been conceived in secrecy and managed without transparency. But IPL is also more maligned against than it should ever be!

Catch all the coverage of India’s tour to England here

(Ramesh Soundararajan is a consultant in Human Resources and Analytics. He not only graduated from NIT and XLRI, but also played cricket for them as well as for his employers Infosys and Sasken. Nothing gives him greater pleasure than shouting out/ not out during a live telecast and getting his opinion validated! He can be reached on Ramesh_sound@yahoo.com)

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