Amidst the hullabaloo of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Indian selectors announced the teams to play the one-off Test against Afghanistan in June and thereafter, for the tour to play England in their backyard.
The selection of the Indian team for the Twenty20 and the ODI series, quite understandably, was influenced to a great extent by the performance of the players in the ongoing IPL. Given the number of fair skinned former overseas cricketers playing in the league, the general feeling is that it can be called the “Gora Premier League.”
The conflict of interest rule being followed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is pretty ridiculous as far as the IPL is concerned. Having a surfeit of commentators from abroad is just one part of the issue, but the major area of concern is the application of the rule to the Indian support staff, IT analysts, nutritionists, trainers and coaches. The IPL is an Indian tournament that is doing wonderfully well for young as well as established Indian cricketers.
Likewise, it should be a good opportunity for all the Indian support staff contracted with the BCCI or coaches involved in running academies. But none of them can be a part of the extravaganza because of the conflict of interest rule. A Rahul Dravid or a Chandrakant Pandit, the coach of Vidarbha which won the Ranji Trophy this year, becoming a part of the IPL would have been far more beneficial to Indian cricket and cricketers. Unfortunately, it’s the foreign coaches, masseurs and mentors, who are gaining enormously both in terms of money as well as useful information about desi cricketers, rather than their own support staff. One does understand the importance of the conflict of interest clause when one is associated as a selector, with an agency or an event company or for business activities but losing cricket-related jobs to an outsider when we need to breed talent in-house seems very shortsighted.
Indian cricket is witnessing tremendous growth across the country. And IPL has made it even more lucrative and glamorous. But it’s a little unfair if only the cricketers stand to gain from this enormous opportunity, while cricket coaches, fitness trainers, masseurs, ball throwers sit twiddling their thumbs during IPL. Cricket needs many more such trained persons.
The major issue that arises from keeping some good Indian support staff at bay is that the coaches and trainers from overseas are getting a better insight into our cricketers and their capabilities. This is something we may regret in the near future. One does not want to restrict foreigners’ entry into the league, but an equally capable Indian should not be kept away.
Of course, the IPL 2018 has made one progressive change -– to introduce Indian umpires. However, the move is met with criticism on account of a few mistakes made by them. The BCCI must not get swayed by this criticism. With more exposure, the Indian umpires will get better. This area of the game in India needs immense improvement. We need to produce international-level umpires and a stint in the IPL, under the watchful eyes of millions of viewers, would definitely help in giving them the required skills.
The Indian team selected to play the inaugural Test match against Afghanistan does not include captain Virat Kohli, who has opted for a county stint with Surrey in England in order to familiarise himself with the English conditions. One does understand that Afghanistan, a new entrant into Test cricket, would be no match to India, world’s number one Test side. But then, is there anything more important than playing for one’s country? Similarly, Jasprit Bumrah, Rohit Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have been rested before the upcoming tour to England. One is happy to note the importance India is giving to the English tour, especially after the negative issues that arose on account of the lack of acclimatisation during their last overseas tour to South Africa. Cricket can be a very funny game and so one hopes that the match against Afghanistan goes as predicted -- in favour of India. A triple century by Kohli or a match-winning bowling by our two missing pace bowlers would have been a treat for an Indian fan, but alas, that will not happen.
Kohli is a determined and focused cricketer and one hopes for his sake that he flourishes with some scintillating performances when the time comes to play against England. If not, he will rue his decision for the rest of his life.
(The writer is a former India cricketer)