Less than two weeks into season nine of the IPL and let’s be honest, it has all been a touch underwhelming. Half-empty stadiums, very few thrillers and large tracts of insipid cricket have meant India is yet to wholeheartedly embrace its annual summer joust with the game.
While it is obvious that coming as it does on the back of a long few months of T20 cricket has dampened interest, it is also a reminder that the IPL is in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint. Despite the periodic upheavals around it, the league has largely stuck to format over its existence and perhaps the time is now to tweak a few things.
Stir the pot so to speak.
For the last couple of years, I have been convinced that one rule in particular needs an urgent rethink. Instead of allowing four overseas players to be part of a playing XI, as the mandate has been since the inception of the league, the limit should be increased to five.
A sporting competition must be first about playing standards and only then about the bells and whistles around it. It is quite obvious, even to a casual cricket fan, that the quality of the fare on offer so far has been mediocre even as some of the best players in the world warm the bench with their teams unable to fit them into the playing XI.
For instance, if Virat Kohli could play both Adam Milne and David Wiese besides Gayle, de Villiers and Watson, RCB’s bowling wouldn’t look quite as ordinary. Corey Anderson, one of the world’s premier all-rounders could add even greater menace to the Mumbai Indians outfit if he can slot in alongside Kieron Pollard.
A Delhi Daredevils attack that features Imran Tahir, one of the game’s best limited-overs spinners, would certainly be a lot more potent. If M S Dhoni could pick two of Thisara Perera, Mitchell Marsh and Albie Morkel for every game, he’d surely feel a lot more secure as leader. You can do a similar drill for virtually all the teams and will surely arrive at a stronger playing XI than the ones they are fielding at the moment.
Stronger teams = Better cricket.
It is facetious to argue that an additional overseas player will force a talented Indian youngster to sit out. With six slots available across eight teams, there is plenty of opportunity on offer for emerging players to catch the eye. If anything, slightly fiercer competition for spots will ensure there is greater pressure to perform, and as a direct consequence, flourish.
When the league first came about, it was argued that it would serve as a “nursery” to Indian cricket, providing a steady supply line of players. Nine years down the line, that claim doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny. While the IPL can be credited to have played a role in the development of emerging stars such as Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya and Manish Pandey, it is their exploits on the less glamorous and more demanding domestic circuit that has been a greater contributor.
In essence, the IPL is a display window for effervescent young Indian talent to shine through. Players such as Shreyas Iyer, Sarfaraz Khan, Manan Vohra, Deepak Hooda and many others won’t lose their place just because an additional overseas player can fit in.
There is also little reason to be overly protective of the “Indian-ness” of the IPL anymore. As the league has grown, fans have learnt to identify with overseas players as much, and in some cases a lot more, than Indians.
It was clever to identify city-centric icons - Sachin Tendulkar (Mumbai), Rahul Dravid (Bangalore), Sourav Ganguly (Kolkata), Virender Sehwag (Delhi) and Yuvraj Singh (Punjab) when the tournament was first introduced to Indian fans. Over time, the huge following the likes of A B de Villiers at Bangalore and Dwayne Bravo at Chennai command, is clear evidence that franchise loyalties have evolved and matured.
The bottom line is this – each franchise is allowed nine overseas players as part of its squad. They are among the most skilled cricketers in the world and there is every chance that if allowed on the field, can inject greater verve into the competition.
It will still be the Indian Premier League, just a new and improved version.