Suddenly, the IPL is not responsible

For three successive years starting 2009, the Indian Premier League was blamed for the national team's disastrous showings in international cricket in the immediacy of the Twenty20 tournament.

Updated: June 21, 2013 15:02 IST
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It's funny how, in times of success for the national team, the three most 'reviled' letters in world cricket have been conspicuous by their absence.

No, we are not talking DRS. DRS is not reviled, not even - contrary to popular perception - by India. It might be contentious, it might be occasionally controversial, but it has found universal acceptance with the exception of India, who continue to oppose its mandatory use across international cricket though they are not averse to making the most of it at global limited-overs ICC events.

India's reluctance to embrace DRS in its totality has been squarely blamed on the pig-headed attitude of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, even if the fact of the matter is that some of the more influential players within the set-up are opposed to the system. India had a very bad experience with the DRS when it was first trialled in 2008 on their Test tour of Sri Lanka. They had clearly not done their homework and had almost every review - or challenge, as it was called then before the ICC decided that umpires' decisions can't be challenged, only reviewed - overturned while Sri Lanka, smart and savvy, used it judiciously, and benefited immensely.

But where were we? Oh, those three reviled letters in world cricket - IPL.

For three successive years starting 2009, the Indian Premier League was blamed for the national team's disastrous showings in international cricket in the immediacy of the Twenty20 tournament. The second edition of the IPL immediately preceded the 2009 World T20 in England, the third edition was staged shortly before the 2010 World T20 in the Caribbean. When the Indian team embarked on these assignments, the general consensus was that the players would benefit from having played plenty of Twenty20 cricket leading in to the World Cup. But once India failed to progress to the knockout stages, in a dramatic but not unexpected U-turn, the origin of the team's poor performances was traced to the IPL, with its attendant travel, fatigue, after-match parties and myriad distractions.

The IPL was again at the receiving end when India wiped the floor in England in 2011, going through the entire tour without a single victory. The callous attitude of the administrators, the lack of planning and foresight, the fact that the Indians were going into a full tour that was to start with the Test series on the back of a surfeit of Twenty20 cricket - they were all held responsible for the abject 4-0 surrender, as well as the abdication of the No. 1 spot in the Test rankings.

It isn't as if there isn't any truth to those charges, at least when it comes to the 2011 tour of England. India's batsmen were decidedly under-cooked against a versatile and supremely skilled English attack, and resembled rabbits frozen in headlights as James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann left India's reputation as the best batting unit in world cricket in tatters. Barring Rahul Dravid, no other batsman looked the part, though it is worth remembering that Abhinav Mukund - who played the first two Tests - and VVS Laxman had very little to do with the IPL season gone by.

But where is talk of the IPL now, when India are playing the best cricket of all teams in the Champions Trophy? Is the success of the Indian team despite the IPL, not because of it? In an ideal world, if the IPL was in the past responsible for poor performances, then should it also not have played at least a peripheral part in India's outstanding show in England this time around? But wait, that's only in an ideal world.

Sample this. India's standout performers at the Champions Trophy, in no particular order, have been Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and, to a lesser extent, Virat Kohli and Dinesh Karthik. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Suresh Raina have hardly got a hit, R Ashwin has been effective without being extraordinary and Umesh Yadav has blown hot and cold, as is to be expected of a young fast bowler still learning the ropes, but who must be nurtured because he is a bit of a rarity - a young Indian fast bowler. These are the 11 men who have played in each of India's four games thus far and, barring the extraordinary, will also constitute the unit that will try to stop England from winning their first international 50-over title in Sunday's final at Edgbaston.

Dhawan was a late starter in IPL VI, missing the first half of Sunrisers Hyderabad's campaign with a broken finger, but when he did return, he did so with a bang. Hyderabad's batting had looked brittle, devoid of quality and in a shambles when Dhawan came charging back in, the knight in shining armour as the IPL's newest franchise carved a playoff berth against all expectations. Rohit was in glorious touch for Mumbai Indians all the way through, Jadeja was Chennai Super Kings' go-to man, Ishant was brilliant alongside Dale Steyn for Hyderabad, and Bhuvneshwar was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disastrous campaign for Pune Warriors India. Kohli and Karthik began IPL VI in a blaze of glory for Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai respectively before tapering off somewhat, but each of India's star acts at the Champions Trophy was coming off an excellent IPL. Not something to crow about, agreed, but not worth ignoring altogether, either.

History stands testimony to the fact that IPL success is no guarantee for victory in international cricket, with 2009 and 2010 looming as stark reminders. It might be tempting to wish the Champions Trophy performance in 2013 away as a freakishly consistent run from a team that came to England and Wales carrying a lot of baggage and decided to unload all of it on the verdant fields there, but that's all too simplistic a point of view.

India have been refreshingly electrifying at the Champions Trophy. Their cricket has graduated from the ponderous and sometimes fearful to exciting and entertaining. More than anything else, what is clear is that they are having fun out on the park. Far too often, enjoying each others' success has been nothing more than a cliché; watching young India, Dhoni's young India, you can sense that the players are genuinely happy for each other. That this is not a collection of individuals, but a team driven by a common goal which need not always be victory, but which is to play the best cricket they are capable of playing.

Nothing illustrates the approach of a team to its cricket better than the fielding, and India have fielded quite outstandingly. There is a certain pride in excelling on the field, in stopping runs and pouching half-chances, that is hard to miss. Kohli's disappointment, indeed disgust, at putting down Angelo Mathews, and his joy and relief two deliveries later when the Sri Lankan captain was caught smartly by Bhuvneshwar in Thursday's semifinal, made for fabulous television-watching. It also showed how much this team values its fielding skills, skills that have been honed through hours at practice and polished during matchplay. Especially at a certain Twenty20 tournament from which, of course, nothing good can ever emerge.

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