The Indian cricket team are living out a bit of a double life at present. On one hand, they're the No 1 ranked team in Tests, recently crowned champions of the sport's biggest prize - The World Cup, have the most celebrated cricketer of the last fifty years in their midst (not too mention a couple of other all-time greats), are paid enough to last seven generations and are backed by the richest and most powerful cricket board. You would think the going was pretty good. But that's just one side of the picture. On the other hand, India have been bystanders in what was being built up as a clash of titans. They've been steamrolled in two consecutive Tests by huge margins, have looked completely out of sorts in all departments of the game, have more than a 50% chance of losing their numero uno status and the only players who are performing for them are the ones that can soon be rounded off to the ripe old age of 40.
To add to this the number of players who have suffered from injury and illness or just plain fatigue in the past four months is on the verge of entering double digits. From the looks of it, the BCCI could soon be the single largest contributor to UK's medical profession.
West Indies pace legend Michael Holding has now asked why no one was injured before the IPL. It's a worthy question. Is Test cricket no longer of prime importance to the current crop of stars? Former England skipper Nasser Hussain has been openly critical of the BCCI’s tactics through his commentary stint in the ongoing series. He thinks the IPL is to blame for the Indian team’s current condition. In contrast, the English squad has given the series the respect it deserves and was raring to go from day one.
Why do we need outsiders to point out that we're headed down the wrong road? Is it because they're jealous, like Ravi Shastri said? Or is it because our own former greats of the game are too busy filling their own coffers (or gymkhana lockers) to step up and take a stand?
Coming back to the Indian Premier League, let's imagine what life would look like without it-
Yuvraj Singh would have basked in the well-deserved glory of his Man of the Tournament trophy from the World Cup instead of leading an IPL franchise that had no actual home ground, no supporters and worse - no wins. The time off would have probably prevented his lung infection (from Raina breathing down his neck?) and would have definitely given him enough chances to prove himself in the Caribbean before the trip to England.
Not only Yuvraj, the rest of the World Cup winning team too would have had the opportunity to savour the moment. The cup was won on our soil and yet they still didn’t have the time to sit atop a bus and parade through the city (ala 2007) or even pose for more than a total of three pictures.
Gautam Gambhir was embroiled in a controversy towards the end of the IPL when he chose to play for his franchise Kolkata Knight Riders despite the onset of a shoulder injury. The injury kept him out of the West Indies tour and the doctor's report stated that it was picked up during the World Cup and was aggravated during the IPL. So clearly, no IPL would have kept Gambhir out all the mess.
Virender Sehwag had to undergo shoulder surgery after pulling out in the middle of IPL 4. Zaheer Khan with an ankle injury, S Sreesanth with an elbow injury and Cheteshwar Pujara with a knee injury were other members of the national side that were put out of action by the IPL.
So is it all the BCCI's fault? Are they responsible for pushing cricketers towards the IPL at the cost of Tests? They undoubtedly have given birth to a monster but players who wear the nation's name on their jersey need to take on onus of being responsible for their own decisions, their own destinies. They need to decide whether they should befriend that monster.
Australia Test and ODI skipper Michael Clarke has opted out of the T20 format so that he can focus on the longer versions of the game. On the other hand, there are players like Brett Lee who retired from Tests to prolong his limited overs career. Many young Indian cricketers are struggling to make those decisions. The IPL has given them an opportunity to play in front of packed stadiums. It has given them handsome pay packets and the ability to earn a livelihood out of cricket - a privilege earlier restricted to a select few. It has given them fame and acceptance. Are they wrong then to clamour for all that? Maybe not. But those who aim to play Test cricket, or indeed all three formats, need to prioritise. Playing Tests for your country can't be the voluntary job you do on a weekend after a 40-hour long work week. The skills it demands will never allow that.
In the meantime, those cricketers that have a voice need to speak up. The Sachin Tendulkars and MS Dhonis need to advise the BCCI and put their foot down on issues like scheduling rather than the DRS. They need to demand more practice matches when touring for a Test series. Or else not only can India kiss their number 1 tag goodbye, there will be very little chance of it coming back.