Cricket, thankfully, has taken centre stage of late. For a long while it seemed the game was stuck in legal wrangles between the BCCI and the Supreme Court appointed Lodha Committee. The India-Australia series served as a great advertisement for Test cricket. Now IPL beckons.
To be precise, the India-Australia Test series had all the ingredients of a Broadway classic and the sweet hangover lingers on. IPL 10, starting Wednesday and coming on the heels of a six-month-long home season during which India achieved unprecedented success, faces the challenge of attracting fans to smash-and-grab cricket. So the tenth edition of the tournament might take a couple of weeks to create a ‘heavy metal’ (to paraphrase Jurgen Klopp) atmosphere and need something special to woo back the connoisseurs.
T20 cricket, however intense it may be, doesn’t offer the legacy of the longest format. To make matters worse, even before a ball is bowled in the tournament, it seems to have become the Indian Pull-out League. Virat Kohli, cricket’s biggest brand at the moment, won’t be available for the first few matches. Ravi Ashwin, KL Rahul and Murali Vijay will miss the event in its entirety. Ravindra Jadeja and Umesh Yadav are out for at least a fortnight. A stellar cast is nursing injuries after an unusually long home season. With the ICC Champions Trophy commencing on June 1, every top player appears to be treading cautiously.
Some first grade overseas players will also be absent. Australian Mitchell Starc, South Africans JP Duminy and Quinton de Kock won’t feature but for different reasons. AB de Villiers’ back pain is a cause for concern for his franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and also all T20 lovers.
Still make no mistake, the stands will be full and millions will be watching the matches on TV from the very first day. And the tournament will be important for some key players. For Rohit Sharma and Mohammed Shami, this IPL presents an opportunity to return to full match fitness ahead of the Champions Trophy. Rohit hasn’t played any cricket in the last five months after picking up a thigh injury during the limited-overs series against New Zealand. Shami had suffered a jarred knee in November last year and hasn’t played international cricket since. A good IPL will set them up nicely for the Champions Trophy.
For someone like Suresh Raina, this IPL may determine his cricketing future. Dropped from the BCCI central contract list, the southpaw finds his international career at the crossroads: next couple of months could make or break it. He is only 30 years old so resurrection shouldn’t be impossible. A needs a good outing in the IPL to regain form and confidence.
Trying to a pick the favourites in this format would be foolish. IPL 10 auction put a high value on fast bowlers. Little wonder then that England quickie Tymal Mills was sold to RCB for Rs 12 crore or that Australian Pat Cummins and South African Kagiso Rabada went to Delhi Daredevils for Rs 4.5 crore and Rs 5 crore, respectively. Even the unheralded Mohammed Siraj landed a Rs 2.6-crore deal with Sunrisers Hyderabad and Tamil Nadu medium pacer T Natarajan was snapped up for Rs 3 crore by Kings XI Punjab. Some death-overs’ innovations could be on the cards.
There was no surprise in Ben Stokes getting a Rs 14.5-crore deal from Rising Pune Supergiants, though. The world’s best all-rounder, however doesn’t just have the responsibility of winning matches for his franchise. His success in the IPL 10 can reinvigorate the game at the school level in England. Too many young kids are drifting away to other sports at the home of cricket and Stokes could be the one to bring them back.