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Sunday, November 28, 2021

View, review: All play and no break, but who’s to blame

Unlike England and Australia cricketers, India stars might be reluctant to go on breaks due to top billing in IPL and insecurity, prestige issues.

Written by Tushar Bhaduri | New Delhi |
Updated: November 14, 2021 11:01:06 am
Bubble life can get suffocating after a point and players can put up with a regimented schedule for only so long before it starts playing on one’s mind.

“You are not switched on as you should be. This is not an excuse. Because in trying to win, you will lose a game. Here we didn’t try to win, because the x-factor – the players were mentally and physically drained – wasn’t there… I don’t care who the player is. If you put even Don Bradman in the bubble, his average will come down. Eventually, the bubble will burst.”

“Definitely being on the road for six months is a huge ask, the players have not gone home ever since they had a short break after the last IPL. They are in a bubble for the last six months, which takes a huge toll. So, a short break between the IPL and World Cup would have done a lot of good for these boys.”

These two statements by Ravi Shastri and Bharat Arun, outgoing head coach and bowling coach respectively, suggest that the hectic schedule and bubble life had a lot to do with India’s early ouster from the T20 World Cup.

While it’s understandable that the several multi-format members of the Indian squad – which includes virtually all the established players – had virtually no break once the Test series in England got underway in early August, it’s not as if they had no choice. The BCCI, at least on paper, permits any player who thinks he needs a break to recharge himself physically and mentally, to do so when required. But realistically, such instances are few and far between. So while pointing a finger at the BCCI’s scheduling, the players are also pointing four at themselves.

In any case, they had a three-week window between the World Test Championship final and the England Test series, when they were not confined to a bubble and had few restrictions on movement. Several players and coaching staff were seen at European football championship games and at Wimbledon.

The tour to Australia was immediately followed by the home series against England in February-March (four Tests, 5 T20Is and 3 ODIs) and Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma featured in each leg. There may be an argument to give the key players some much-needed rest in between.

No respite

The Indian Premier League is a commercial behemoth of the BCCI and runs on the star-power of top Indian cricketers. The commercial stakes and broadcast deals involved mean any top India player skipping the tournament will be frowned upon, even if unofficially.

Insecurity may be a factor in some players who may not be completely sure of their spot in the team not taking a break even if they don’t feel 100 per cent. Bio-secure environments during the pandemic queers the pitch further. Bubble life can get suffocating after a point and players can put up with a regimented schedule for only so long before it starts playing on one’s mind.

This is in contrast to players from England, and Australia to an extent, taking breaks on their own or when their Board decides they need them. England’s Test tour of India and Sri Lanka earlier this year arguably made more news for the churning of personnel than for the results on the field. The likes of Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow missed different parts of their subcontinental sojourn, even though there was a lot of hand-wringing by purists.

Buttler, Bairstow and Aussie fast bowler Pat Cummins even missed the second leg of the IPL in the UAE to avoid being jaded going into the T20 World Cup and the Ashes series that follows. That’s in addition to England talisman Ben Stokes taking a break to look after his mental health and several others taking time off to recuperate from injuries which, ironically, may work in their favour in the long run.

Different situation

It’s difficult to imagine too many Indian players skipping series or tournaments on their own. Kohli taking paternity leave during the Test series in Australia was an exception. Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja have been rested for the upcoming T20I series against New Zealand and Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant for the subsequent two Tests, but that may be a call taken by the Board and the selectors after the early ouster from the T20 World Cup. The reluctance on the players’ part is understandable. Every match involving India is a high-profile event with millions of eyeballs on it. Losing any game or series, however insignificant in the larger scheme of things, is not an option.

Also, it seems that the top players make playing for India in all three formats a prestige issue, as if they have to prove their prowess and all-round excellence, even if it takes a toll on their physical and mental reserves. In contrast, someone like Joe Root seems to have made peace with the fact that he is not in England’s T20I plans.

And while players like Steve Smith, David Warner and Tim Southee can be omitted from the final XI by their IPL franchises, the top Indian stars are the ones bringing in the eyeballs and fan following. Being on the sidelines may not help in escaping from the bio-bubble, but sitting in the dugout isn’t nearly as taxing as being in the middle of the action.

In the end, it all boils down to prioritising. Some officials and coaching staff at various IPL franchises claim, in hushed tones, that several overseas players don’t exert themselves fully during tournaments and are hesitant to aggravate their niggles which might put them out of national duty, which assumed significance this year as there was virtually no gap between the IPL and the T20 World Cup. It’s important to know when to pull back and when to go full throttle. The human body and mind can only take so much. It’s vital that one recognises the signs and learns when it’s time to say no.

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