“Fatigue was definitely a factor, as were many other things,” India’s head coach Gary Kirsten had said that after India’s another abysmal display against England at the 2009 T20 World Cup. “I don’t want to use that as an excuse but it was a factor. We weren’t an energetic team, like we were in New Zealand where the levels of energy were really good. We didn’t get up to the same level on this tour.”
Twelve years down the line, it is the feeling of déjà vu! Of course, Ravi Shastri or any other member of the Indian team is highly unlikely to point fingers at the holy cow which is Indian Premier League for the uninspiring display at the ongoing T20 World cup in UAE. And, it is understandable since Kirsten was bluntly told by the powerful BCCI officials then that never ever blame the IPL again for national team’s poor performance, it does seem that it has become the part of an unwritten code.
Come what may, cricket players, commentators and even former or current coaches won’t ever bring IPL when an honest assessment is made how things go so horribly wrong time and again at the shortest format’s world cup since India won the inaugural championship.
At the 2010 T20 World Cup, the similar questions which Kirsten faced, were asked to the captain MS Dhoni again but he typically diverted the topic without directly blaming the IPL. “Most of the players were fit and fresh. Players also need to be smart, not only about cricket but about other things going around in the IPL. Have to respect your body and give some time for it to recover because there is more to it than playing matches. Attending parties and travelling takes a toll,” Dhoni had said after India’s five-wicket loss against Sri Lanka which knocked them out of the mega event.
Of course, not much changed in terms of the results in the next edition when T20 World Cup was hosted in the month of September-October in Sri Lanka but that time (only as an exception) nobody pointed fingers at the IPL. And, when India made it to the final of 2014 edition followed by a semi-final showing in 2016, it was, perhaps, rightly argued that the absence of fatigue factor was one of the significant reasons for the performance as those two editions in question were held before the IPL.
However, apologists of the world’s richest league may argue that why fatigue only affects the Indian team when almost every top player in the world participates in this tournament? It sounds perfectly fine but if you dig deeper then you will find that India’s top order batters like KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant are not only turning out in each and every match of their respective franchises but also have to cope up with the additional burden of captaincy where demands to win a trophy is immense.
No other national team’s major players have to go through such a grinding schedule and deal with expectations which are bound to take a heavy toll on the players physically as well as mentally. And in that context, it is not surprising to see the seemingly lack of energy or intensity which is usually the main characteristic of the Kohli-led side across formats.
To make matters worse for India, most of the T20 World Cup members were also part of a hectic four-month bio-bubble in England which comprised high-profile World Test Championship in June and subsequently a highly competitive five-match series in red-ball cricket (fifth Test was cancelled and subsequently rescheduled).
The IPL success sometimes can blind us. We all do get excited by some of the fine talents from India making it big on a platform like IPL whose tagline is ‘where talent meets the opportunity’.
However, it has also been repeatedly proved that it is one thing to do well in a tournament like the IPL when only four overseas players are part of the playing XI and altogether a different T20 game when the same set of players play against an international side. The exceptional success of a Ravichandran Ashwin or a Jasprit Bumrah is rightly credited to the T20 league but at the same time countless players have just been the ‘IPL wonders’ as well.
Recently, allrounder Hardik Pandya was quoted as saying that the Indian national team can simultaneously field two quality sides in international cricket and it is now being mocked with BCCI being referred to as too arrogant of its wealth of resources. In fact, some of the western observers have also drawn the analogy of England’s Premier League (football) like curse in cricket for India.
For the record, England haven’t won a football world cup since 1966 despite running, arguably, the world’s best football league.
The ‘bad impact’ of IPL in India’s flagging fortunes at successive World Cups since the first edition may have some merits.
And last but not the least, some of the top stars of the various IPL teams who are great players (like Kohli and Rohit) and potential greats (like Rahul and Pant) in ODI and Test cricket aren’t necessarily exceptional T20 performers as well. The strike-rate of Kohli in the middle overs (around 100) and strike-rates of Rohit and Rahul which is around 130 doesn’t get scrutinised as much when they are being assessed as an India player in T20 cricket.
However, this is not a new phenomenon in Indian cricket as Sourav Ganguly used to mask his Test failings with exceptional shows in ODI format and Virender Sehwag used to do the same by his terrific performance in Test cricket while being just good-enough in the white-ball format. Plenty of data clearly establishes that Rohit and Kohli’s struggle against the spinners in IPL.
Maybe they are not the finest top-order batters despite their individual records (in terms of average and runs scored) but try arguing that when they are being selected for Team India. The IPL once again hides this Achilles heels which may have cost the national team dearly once again in a prestigious tournament like the T20 World Cup.