Clayton Murzello: Will quantity lead to quality dip?

By  Clayton Murzello | Posted  06-Apr-2017

Indian Premier League can jokingly be called the Injury Premier League, considering the taxing season it has been for the country's Test players

R Ashwin will be missed by Pune Rising Supergiant due to a sports hernia. File Pic
R Ashwin will be missed by Pune Rising Supergiant due to a sports hernia. File Pic

The Indian Premier League (IPL) has got off to a bandaged start with six India regulars (KL Rahul, M Vijay, Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Umesh Yadav) not part of the glitzy event, at least in the initial period. This is no surprise considering the humongous amount of international cricket India have played this season. But what makes it extraordinary is the fact that the IPL kicked off barely a week after the fourth and final Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy concluded in Dharamsala.

Sure, this was an extraordinary season in which India were committed to host 13 Tests, but the tournament coming so close on the heels of the Tests goes against a section of the Lodha Panel report which read, "It ought not to be forgotten that the aim of the BCCI is to attract the best possible cricketing talent to the national side. The fact that many international players have declined lucrative IPL contracts to preserve themselves for national duty shows the path necessary for Indian cricket.

"Cricket calendars also ought to keep this in mind, and the BCCI should ensure that at least 15 days gap should be provided between the IPL season and the national calendar. A testing and cramped cricketing year takes a substantial toll on a professional cricketer's body and longevity, and it is the responsibility of the BCCI to take remedial measures immediately."

It's hard not to be sympathetic to the players. The workload is enormous and one shudders to think about their mental and physical shape when they are in England to defend their Champions Trophy crown in June. Clive Lloyd, the former West Indies captain, who led a team which was kept busy throughout the year due to their international engagements and county cricket, once said to me while speaking about the amount of cricket Indian players indulge in: "Cars break down and they are made of steel. You must think about whether they are playing too much cricket and are they playing to potential."

Funny things can happen in cricket and who knows, the players may sail through and even do well in England. Pleasant surprises have been witnessed this season already - like fast bowler Umesh Yadav figuring in 12 of the 13 Tests. In this age, this is rare and it's a tribute to his skill as well as his fitness and one should not forget the efforts of the support staff who ensured he dealt with the rigours well to claim 30 wickets in the season. Ashwin had his own workload to tackle while bowling 738.2 overs over 13 Tests and did well, so did Ravindra Jadeja, who sent down 717.2 overs.

The 2016-17 Indian season was similar to the one in 1979-80 when the team played 13 home Tests (six each against Australia, Pakistan and the BCCI Golden Jubilee Test against England). Karsan Ghavri, who opened the bowling with a red-hot, young Kapil Dev in each of those Test matches, didn't find it a burden. "Frankly, it was not taxing. We treated it as 'more the merrier' because we didn't get many Test match opportunities in those days -three to five Test matches a year. But it's different for the current team because they have more on their plate. IPL is intense, high-pressure cricket and then they have to be at their best in the Champions Trophy. Now, that is taxing," said Ghavri, whose next international game after the 13 Tests in 1979-80 came 10 months later.

That break would have been shorter had India toured the West Indies in 1980, but the series was called off. Sunil Gavaskar pulled out of the tour during the India vs Pakistan Test series itself. As captain of India, he had requested the BCCI president M Chinnaswamy to postpone the West Indies tour departure by only a week because of the gruelling home season's effect on the players. Chinnaswamy refused to alter the schedule and, according to Gavaskar in an interview to The Sportstar, Chinnaswamy said that there were 5,000 other cricketers who would be available for the tour - similar to what the Australian Cricket Board secretary Alan Barnes said when the players were asking for a better financial deal in 1975. In the end, the tour was called off with the West Indies board saying that top players from both teams were unavailable.

In the current scenario, no matter how much we hear about players wanting to play on because there is so much of money to earn, the BCCI needs to think more about the number of matches players have to cope with. It's been a period of great success for the Test team, but if this is followed by cricket of lesser quality, 2016-17 will not be as memorable as it should be.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance.  He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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