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T20 World Cup 2021

Does an international team actually have to play together to prepare anymore?

by Divy Tripathi 7 minute read

The manner in which cricket is run in the ‘Age of T20’ doesn’t sit well with the traditionalists. However, the international teams seem to have adapted themselves to the reality of T20 leagues. Over the years, they have even used them to their benefit in international cricket, writes Divy Tripathi.

The lamentation of losing out on the Old Trafford Test soon turned into a tug-of-war between the cricketing fraternity of the participating nations. There were insinuations about the sinister role that India’s premium T20 league played in this cancellation at one end, while some responded by defending the priorities of Indian players, which supposedly lay in playing Test cricket.

Amidst this display of cricket nationalism from both ends, the Ebenezer Scrooge of cricketing universe, the IPL, made a mandatory appearance. While we still need clarity as to how this particular situation will pan out, the very mention of IPL in this case is a reminder of the impact that the T20 leagues have on the modern day cricketing schedule.

Let us not forget, that there was a mere four-day gap between the Old Trafford Test and the IPL, as there is only an eight-day gap between the IPL final and India’s first fixture in the men’s T20 World Cup. Earlier, India had supposedly planned to host South Africa and New Zealand before the T20 World Cup but subsequent developments have ensured that the only cricketing action Indian cricket sees from September 19 to mid-October is that of the IPL.

On the other hand, New Zealand and Australia too have ensured that most of their players are available for the IPL, sending second string squads for their limited-overs sojourns of the sub-continent. The West Indies seem to have banked on the CPL and the IPL as their allies in preparation for their T20 World Cup defence.

While there are others like Pakistan and Bangladesh who will use international cricket as a means of preparing for the World Cup (that too given that PSL and BPL don’t take place in this season), it seems that for many the T20 leagues have become a viable if inevitable source of preparing for the tournament. But isn’t this something that should raise concern for the fans of these countries?

After all, not long back, teams used the series preceding a world tournament as playing grounds for their strategies and team combinations. India had a robust build-up for the 2016 T20 World Cup. They played a three match T20 series Down Under, followed by a three-match series against Sri Lanka and a T20 Asia Cup to prepare for the World Cup challenge.

Players too got an opportunity to audition for a spot in the world tournament. So the performances of Ed Joyce, Liam Plunkett, and Paul Nixon in the 2006/07 Commonwealth Bank Tri-series win in Australia helped them seal a spot for the 2007 ODI World Cup in the Caribbean.

However, with changing times, team tactics have also evolved. For this edition of the T20 World Cup, the West Indies have recalled the 36-year-old veteran, Ravi Rampaul. He last featured in the maroon shirt back in 2015. This selection might baffle people who look at his economy rate in the T20Is which stands at a poor 8.51. But the logic of the selectors is based on his exemplary form in the CPL, where he has picked 19 wickets in just 10 games at an average of 16.21.

Similarly, Indian selectors have confirmed the importance of IPL in the India T20I setup through their selections. While Ravichandran Ashwin was picked based on his performances in the IPL, over the last few months a number of Mumbai Indians players have been given opportunities to prove themselves in the India squad.

At present, six players in the squad are from the Mumbai franchise. The selectors have also appointed the Chennai Super Kings skipper MS Dhoni as the team mentor. These moves are perhaps taken with the belief that successful strategies of the IPL (Mumbai Indians have won the league on five occasions, while MS Dhoni has led his side to success three times) can propel the national side to achieve laurels at the world stage.

Besides in the world of T20 cricket, the definition of team build-ups and strategies has completely changed. In contrast to India’s road to the 2016 T20 World Cup which was filled with a number of fixtures against top international sides, West Indies played a single T20I series, that too in November 2015, leading up to the World Cup.

For the majority of the lead-up, most of their T20 stars were busy featuring in T20 leagues such as the BPL, BBL, and the PSL. While India’s tournament ended with a defeat in the semi-finals, the West Indies went on to be crowned champions.

The presence of IPL or other T20 leagues has been deemed as being harmful to the growth of international game. There have been instances when national team players had to miss out on international fixtures due to injuries. While it may be easier to blame the players, the T20 league logic is based on the profits that they can reap for the cricket boards. Unlike the tri-series of yesteryear, which bloomed in the 90s across the globe before withering away, the T20 leagues and their cousins are here to stay.

Even if one is merely a national team supporter who despises the perversion of T20 leagues, it has to be understood that no international side is untouched by the impact of these leagues. Quite on the contrary, now they seem more than happy with all the expertise they can receive from the league cricket.

The very nature of T20 cricket is such that the role that an impactful cameo can play in turning the game is several times more as compared to formats which are longer. The skill required here might be greater, but it has to be applied for a significantly shorter duration. An example of the same could be Carlos Brathwaite’s magical four hits which changed the course of the last World Cup. In this format, long lead-up and preparation in the national setup might be of little value. Instead, it’s readiness for the crunch moments that matters most.

There is also great benefit of the T20 leagues to the so-called minnows. Namibia has David Wiese participating in the CPL, Netherlands have Colin Ackermann in The Hundred and Brandon Glover in the T20 Blast 2021, and Scotland have Josh Davey in the English T20 setup to name a few.

Thus, though in an ideal world it would be best that teams around the world prepared for a World Cup with a number of pre-tournament fixtures, this cannot be the case for all sides at the present. The national teams too have started figuring out ways in which they can make the most of the situation by ensuring that their players get the best out of the competitive leagues around the world.

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