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It’s time to ask the unaskable: Is the IPL holding India back?

Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 6 minute read

The IPL started in 2008, with aims to increase the talent pool and make India a financial hub of the sport. It has proved to be a game-changer, but comes with its disadvantages as well, writes Sarah Waris.

Over the years, the Indian Premier League has been credited, almost single-handedly, for India’s growing supremacy in world cricket. By throwing up polished cricketers season after season to playing a huge role in securing the future of youngsters whose careers might not take off as they would have intended, the IPL has been a stable ecosystem in Indian cricket. However, and this is not putting an asterisk only after India’s elimination from the T20 World Cup, it comes with its perils as well.

Promotes star culture

At the end of the day, as much as it is denied, IPL teams are run by business owners whose primary motive is to make their business product a success. Getting on board ‘popular’ faces, who already have a connection with the crowd plays a huge part in the subsequent popularity of the side, which, in turn, helps in getting more sponsors on board. There, thus, will always remain a dilemma over retaining players ahead of a season: should teams continue with a popular face even when the returns are below-par just because of the market they bring with them?


Over the last few seasons, we have seen cricketers including MS Dhoni continue with their respective IPL sides despite their average showings with the bat. With the league remaining the world’s premium tournament, not having the international team with ‘star’ faces of the IPL could potentially dampen the impact of the competition. There could, therefore, be hesitancy in dropping established cricketers, which might not always be what the team needs.

There is also an argument that this has bled into the international team. Dhoni, a struggling performer for a long time, was allowed to go out purely on his own terms. Kohli and Rohit demand selection by their mere presence, even if making a side with both in it can be a challenge.

A false accomplishment on familiar wickets

The tracks that are used for the IPL often play to the strengths of the India players. The stiffest competition they face, more often than not, are slow tracks where the ball does not come on to the bat well. Over the last few seasons, the cricketers have had it tough while playing in Sharjah, Chennai, or Delhi, and the ability to conquer the conditions makes them an exciting prospect. Continued success on such tracks garners undivided attention, but the truth remains that the wickets are not too dissimilar to what most domestic players have grown up on.

With a number of India selections based on IPL performances of late, the team and the players are often found wanting overseas, where the tracks are largely different from the ones they have played and succeeded in.

Is it the best v the best?

A growing trend in the IPL remains the under-performance of various overseas cricketers, barring a few. In the last three seasons, only six overseas players feature in the top 20 run-getters in the IPL, of which AB de Villiers has retired from international cricket. The number increases to nine in the top 20 wicket-takers list, but, overall, the impact of international stars has been limited.

The fact that a number of international regulars do not feature in the IPL further dilutes the level of the competition that is thrown up. Performing against overseas cricketers might boost a domestic player’s morale, but if they are not at their very best or not a regular in international cricket, how much should showings in the league be taken into consideration?

The opening conundrum

The number of openers available to India in T20I cricket has become a running joke among fans, but this can be seen as a function of the IPL. With players spread across eight teams, it’s natural to promote your best batters to where they can have the most impact, at the top of the order. This is also where players will want to bat, giving them the best chance of catching the eye regularly. However, this means someone who has the skills to become a talented finisher or middle-order player doesn’t get the chance to bat there, and so India are left with many players skilled in one area, and only a few skilled in another.

Packed schedule and injury concerns

Even before the T20 World Cup began, there were fears over the hectic schedule and burned-out India cricketers who would take the field in the edition. With the IPL worth USD 6.3 billion in 2018, and that figure only increasing, cancellation of the tournament, as could have been the case this year, remains a strict no-no. The result was a fatigued India team, who have been in different bubbles since July, entering the T20 World Cup with no breathing space.

Since the IPL last year, India have been constantly on the road: they flew to Australia following IPL 2020 and entered another bubble almost immediately for the home series against England. A few days after the T20Is against England, IPL 2021 began, and the players only got a break of sorts once the tournament was postponed in May.

The hectic schedule coupled with intense competition has also forced players to play with injuries. Rohit Sharma had missed a few league games of IPL 2020 but returned for the playoffs after stating his injury wasn’t serious, but questions were raised as he missed the following series Down Under. Varun Chakravarthy’s injured shoulder in IPL 2020, which was not revealed through the tournament, meant that he too missed the Australia series.

Chakravarthy also played with dodgy knees this IPL, and whether the decision to continue participating is the choice of the player or of the franchise, not revealing injuries further puts the plans of the national team at risk.

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