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India’s T20 World Cup Mess Was a Long Time in the Making

India got knocked out in the group stage of an ICC even for the first time since 2012.

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India’s T20 World Cup Mess Was a Long Time in the Making
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A 9-wicket victory to end their campaign but the Indian team sign off from the 2021 T20 World Cup with their first group stage exit from an Internal Cricket Council (ICC) tournament since 2012.

As was expected, there's been a lot of talk about why the pre-tournament favourites got knocked out so early, and the one big reason being repeated is the timing of the 2021 Indian Premier League (IPL).

Now while the IPL is everyone’s favourite whipping boy, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the league. As a business product and as a cricket spectacle, it is terrific. The problem is not the IPL. The issue is what and how it is managed from outside the cricket field.

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<div class="paragraphs"><p>Virat Kohli  captained India for the last time in a T20I, against Namibia on Monday.</p></div>

Virat Kohli captained India for the last time in a T20I, against Namibia on Monday.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Onus on BCCI To Prioritise Players Over IPL

After the first half of the league this season was suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak in teams, the scheduling for the second half was never going to be perfect.

The issue was not whether the scheduling of the IPL’s second half was good or bad. The issue was with the way the players were handled by the BCCI.

We have had former India captain, and hero of India’s 1983 World Cup win, Kapil Dev fire shots claiming that in his view IPL is placed at a higher plane than the Indian team by the players. And now, his comment is being used as a vehicle to slam the IPL.

The problem is that the Indian players are essentially centrally contracted by the BCCI and therefore their well-being is a matter of concern for the board who have yet not been able to take a stand if they want to prioritise their T20 league or their players.

The contracted players are employees of the BCCI, while the others who are not contracted still find a place in the Indian squads from time to time. The board needs to take ownership of their employees and the prospective players rather than look at them as some kind of consultants who are guns for hire.

The players cannot be left to their own devices to decide when and how they will take breaks. The BCCI needs to have a plan, a scheme by which the centrally contracted as well as the players who are likely to make the specific series/tournament are looked at very carefully.

Is There a Plan To Prioritise Players' Well Being?

From the looks of it, there appears to be no such plan. The players are being told to take a call and decide for themselves. That will never happen in India because we are essentially a feudal set-up where players view themselves as being subservient to the system. Players despite being professionals since 2004, when the player contracts first came into being, have still not given up their attitudes.

So it is in this context that it was essential that India has a system whereby they will be able to manage workload.

When the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) under Managing Director of England men’s team Ashley Giles came up with a plan earlier in the year to manage workload, there was all-round criticism. But the key English players took breaks from time to time and we are seeing the fruits of that with the T20 side of England. Compare that to the hands-off approach of the BCCI, which is leaving it to the Indian players to decide if they want to pull out of the league run by their own home board.

There has to be an institutionalised plan for India if they want to excel in all three formats and also manage the demands of the cash-rich IPL.

Remember the IPL, franchise owners or its stakeholders are not the problem. They have their own contractual agreements and matters to sort out. You cannot blame them for being demanding with regards to their players. Just look at how England and Australia’s key players pulled out of the IPL as their boards were part of the plan.

England has Giles, South Africa has Graeme Smith, West Indies has Jimmy Adams and other boards have similar positions to manage these issues.

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Confusion in the Run-Up to the Event

The other aspect is the messaging around the team. Captain Virat Kohli’s T20 captaincy drama and appointment of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as mentor were expected to be big-ticket announcements. But instead they served as distractions.

Other sides have made similar announcements like Stephen Fleming and Shane Bond with New Zealand and Mahela Jayawardena with Sri Lanka. But the appointment of Dhoni created a new power centre in the dressing room. The announcement of Rahul Dravid or rather the process around it should have started during the IPL and announcement could have waited till India’s campaign officially ended.

Bio-Bubble Can't Always Be Blamed

Just look at the players who have not played cricket for a long time.

Captain Virat Kohli missed out close to two months of cricket in the 2020-21 season. Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami did not play close to four months because of injury. Jasprit Bumrah missed out on close to two months of cricket due to injury and marriage.

Others like Varun Chakravarthy, Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have not played any cricket before the IPL’s second half.

So technically the players have either been injured and missed out or have just been travelling in the Indian team's non-bubble tour of England. So, are the players really tired because of the scheduling?

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<div class="paragraphs"><p>Rohit Sharma, Ravi Shastri, MS Dhoni, and Virat Kohli in conversation.</p></div>

Rohit Sharma, Ravi Shastri, MS Dhoni, and Virat Kohli in conversation.

(Photo Courtesy: BCCI)

Bad Calls on Key Cricketing Decisions

As always with Indian cricket, off-field issues trump the on-field matters. The fact that the cricket on the field was awful was completely missed out.

The openers should always have been Kohli and Rohit Sharma. But instead, as with everything else in Indian cricket, reputation supersedes requirements of the T20 format.

The injury concerns around Hardik Pandya are like a never-ending daily soap opera. Just who is responsible? Is there a system at all on who takes a call on fitness issues? Who is taking responsibility? We will never know.

Just why would you put all your seam bowling all-rounder eggs in just one basket is another matter. There is no real diktat that there should not be more than one seam bowling all-rounder.

Selection of the squad also sounded messy. If reports are to be believed: Current captain, future captain, current head coach, mentor and selectors all got involved. What you got in return was a complete mess.

In short the T20 World Cup was a mess that was a long time in the making. The problems got compounded by multiple off-field issues that came to a head at the same time and came back to haunt the players during the tournament.

Most importantly, if after having the best domestic T20 league in the world, India is not able to win a T20 World Cup, the problem is not with the IPL, it is elsewhere.

But for that you need to first admit that there is a problem.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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