Well-Rested Players or IPL, What's BCCI's Priority & Do Cricketers Have a Say?
How does one tell their home board, that is also the host of the IPL, that you don't want to play that season?
Last week, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, KL Rahul, and the rest of the big Indian men's team players returned to their homes for the first time in almost six months! Six months that they spent in the bio-bubbles of hotels, stadiums, and airplanes.
In those 6 months, T20 World Cup 'Player of the Series' David Warner rested and played no intentional cricket, and about two Indian Premier League (IPL) matches. In fact a whole lot of international stars chose to skip the second half of the IPL, that ended just days before the World Cup, to well, prioritise international cricket.
Our Indian players?
Did they even have a choice?
Across this year, Indian players have spoken out strongly about bubble fatigue and the toll it's taking on their performance and their mental health. But is the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) even listening?
Despite Virat Kohli waving red flags in March about the dangers of long stints in bio-bubbles, the BCCI went ahead and slotted the second half of the suspended IPL in the one window the Indian team had to rest this year – the five weeks between the England tour and the T20 World Cup. Meaning, the BCCI committed their top stars to six months of non-stop cricket.
The BCCI’s two biggest assets – Indian cricketers and the Indian Premier League – have left the board in what should be a crossroads. Do they prioritise players, their workload and their mental health or do they prioritise the Rs 4,000 crore a season they make from the IPL?
The current status quo would suggest its the IPL that gets preference with the board selling two new franchises last month, that will join the league in 2022 and make it a 10-team affair. For the players, it means 76 matches in the season, instead of the 60 they’ve been playing. Meaning, a longer IPL.
Does that sound like a board that’s addressing the issue of players' fatigue and long stints in a bubble?
Players like Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Adam Zampa can, and have, made the decision to skip the IPL because at most, it means they lose out on the crores in their contract. But is it that simple for the Indian cricketers? Can a Jasprit Bumrah really walk up to Sourav Ganguly and say he doesn’t want to play the IPL and rest and work on his fitness instead? Can even a Virat Kohli or a Rohit Sharma do that? How does one tell their home board, that is also the host of the tournament, that you – one of the biggest names in the league – don't want to play that season?
This, of course, is not the first time the IPL has possibly come in the way of the Indian team's preparations for a World Cup. Before the 2019 ICC ODI World Cup, there was an IPL for two months and while other boards pulled their players out two weeks before the end of the season, to start training for the World Cup, Virat Kohli said it was up to the Indian players to inform their franchises that they wanted to rest and sit out of a few matches. Like, the expectation was that Bumrah, India's premier fast bowler and key member of the World Cup squad, had to tell Rohit Sharma he didn’t want to play the playoffs to rest for the World Cup.
No such thing happened, however, though India did manage to go into the World Cup without any injuries. The team was knocked out in the semi-finals, and England emerged champions.
That was 2019. It’s 2021 now and players have really stepped up and opened up about being made to play too much cricket. Kohli spoke about it in March, Bumrah spoke about it during the T20 World Cup and even former coaching staff members Ravi Shastri and Bharat Arun all emphasised on the toll long stints on the road and in bio-bubbles are taking. And India’s early exit from the event for which they went in as favourites should be a warning cry.
A simple comparison may help us understand this better. While Bumrah, Rohit, Virat, KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant were on the road playing cricket for the last six months, a player like Jos Buttler was rested for parts of India's Test series against England and then he himself pulled out of the IPL in the UAE. Warner, like was mentioned earlier, played no international cricket after the IPL was suspended in May. Not just him but Steve Smith, Pat Cummins, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis all skipped Australia’s July tour of West Indies and had played no cricket in five months when they reached UAE for the IPL.
So, while this summer, everyone else was resting and training for the T20 World Cup, the Indian team got two weeks after the IPL was suspended in May before they headed to the UK for the Test Championship Final. They then played the Test series against England and travelled to the UAE for the IPL and the T20 World Cup. Three days after the final, they’ve started the New Zealand series and then they fly to South Africa and then return to play West Indies and Sri Lanka at home in February and March, before once again returning to... the IPL!
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