Cricket

The Ebbs And Flows Of IPL 2024: Will It Lead to India's T20 World Cup Success?

Indian Premier League 2024 is throwing up a number of new lessons on what the shortest format will be like, going forward. It is time for a look at some of the new insights that these two months have thrown up

Rohit Sharma, LSG Vs MI, IPL 2024, AP photo
Rohit Sharma was replaced by Hardik Pandya as Mumbai Indians captain, ahead of the start of Indian Premier League 2024. Photo: AP
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As another edition of the Indian Premier League draws to a close, it is time to take stock and look back at how it’s all been, beyond the frenzied hitting, beyond the breathtaking run chases, and the glitz and glamour that has now become passe for most of us. (Full IPL Coverage|More Cricket News)

At how this tournament threw up a number of new lessons on what the shortest format will be like, going forward. It is time for a look at some of the new insights that these two months have thrown up.

At the hits and misses and the newer challenges that lie ahead for our cricketers - in the Caribbean and the USA, in the T20 World Cup coming up immediately after this.

Five time champions and one of the most successful IPL franchises, star studded MI were the first to be knocked out of the playoffs this time. And the all-too-familiar memes and wisecracks about an equally star-studded RCB not being capable of ‘beating anyone’ started to circulate again, as they so often have in the past few years. Sickening if you were an RCB fan.

Belying the equally familiar pre-season hype about them on every conceivable medium as the PR agencies sought to ‘create a buzz’.

And that is what the IPL is all about, in a lot of ways - a lucrative, highly paid job, for many of those associated with it in various capacities, each team carrying with it an entourage of close to 100 people, working on different things.

So a narrative has to be created to engage the attention of the masses, a spin, or tale told by the PR merchants “full of sound and fury,” usually signifying nothing.

Predictably, the actual results did not quite match up to the buzz for RCB, specially in the earlier games, prompting sarcastic comments from ex-players about the BCCI packing off the team and auctioning to the nearest bidder- if there was one.

Their subsequent string of successive wins came a bit too late in the day, and probably won’t be enough, as things stand at the time of writing.

The same PR machinery will now kick into overdrive again for the Boys in Blue, as the attention shifts full time to the T-20 World Cup.

And hopefully the actual story this time will be different, after 17 long years.

 There were cameras and microphones everywhere, picking up snatches of private conversations between players on the ground,and broadcasting them to the world and the ugly sight of Mr Moneybags having what was euphemistically called “an animated discussion” with an Indian cricket captain, in full view of the world.

An image that was somehow reminiscent of a top hatted ringmaster from the circuses of our schooldays, cracking his whip at an errant tiger that had refused to jump through a burning hoop.

For the most part, there was a deafening silence from the cricket fraternity. Some even passed it off as being “pretty normal.”

Well if it was, most of us hadn’t seen it before. Coaches and captains do it sometimes of course, but inside the confines of a cricket dressing room.

There was the new ‘Impact Player’ rule which ended Cricket’s claim to being an 11-a-side sport, as teams routinely fielded 12 players in a match. Whether that is here to stay, is something that only time will tell.

Scores of 250 and above in 20 overs became routine, and so did scoring rates of 15 runs an over and more, in some parts of the innings. Mind boggling totals of 500 runs and thereabouts were achieved by the two teams combined in their 40 overs of pure entertainment, and players often hit more sixes than boundaries.

T-20 greats like Jos Buttler batted right through the innings, exploding in the death overs, as they anchored mammoth run chases successfully.

All of which has made the IPL, the most exciting and heavily watched professional cricket league in the world, apart from being the most lucrative. But whether these benchmarks from this edition of the IPL will proliferate to other T-20 games across the world, including the upcoming T-20 World Cup, and whether these will become the norm in the evolution of T-20 cricket for times to come, remains to be seen.

The pitches in the West Indies will be different, and no one can really predict how the ‘drop in’ pitches in the US will turn out to be. Drop in pitches are common on grounds used for multiple sports and the iconic MCG, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, has had them for years, with the cricket pitch shipped out in a giant tray and put in storage at the end of the cricket season,and replaced by a rugby surface. Perth is the same, and so are multiple grounds in New Zealand.

But no one knows what surprises these ‘hothouse’ wickets coming out of months in hibernation will spring on unsuspecting cricketers, when they are first resurrected for match play after a break. So at this point, it seems unlikely that the big IPL totals will be replicated in the T-20 World Cup, specially in the opening matches.The ball will swing and move about,and the boundaries will be longer, all of which will make the contest between bat and ball a little more even than what it was, here in the IPL.

And the wickets in the West Indies are not going to be exactly flat either.

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If nothing, the batters will have to work harder for their runs,to say the least. The bowling will be tighter, and there would be fewer bowlers who can be attacked mercilessly, compared to the IPL, since only the best bowlers of each country would be playing. And these bowlers would be able to defend smaller totals more easily, adding to the overall pressure. India with four specialist spinners in the side, would definitely be looking at making scoring difficult for their opponents.

Not to mention Jasprit Bumrah, who was his familiar miserly self even in these conditions.

Over the last few weeks of the IPL, it has been difficult not to feel sorry for the bowlers, with some of the best in the world going for an unbelievably large number of runs in their four-over spells.

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Some of them will surely be looking at getting their own back in more helpful conditions and it will be fascinating to see how the World Cup version of T-20 cricket differs from the IPL in this regard.

For the Boys in Blue, with the familiar PR hype of a ‘Billion Dreams’ riding on them, it will be back to the pressure of expectations again. Pressure that has undoubtedly contributed to our falling short at ICC tournaments, many a time over the years.

Australian great Justin Langer recently made a great point recently, about handling pressure and winning ICC tournaments which the Indian team would do well to keep in mind as they head into the T-20 World Cup.

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When asked how Australia had been so successful over the years in a recent interview, he said “When you play cricket for Australia, the expectation is you’re going to win because we win. That might sound very simplistic, but this is the Aussie mindset.

In IPL, there is so much pressure to win.

In contrast, we Australians just go with the flow, stay relaxed. It’s about having fun. And they know they’ve got so much talent on the park.They just go about their business. They are used to winning. They are used to doing it their way. It is like, we don’t take it too seriously, even though we take it very seriously. It’s almost like a paradox. That’s the secret.

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If you let the pressure build, you’ll never perform at your best.  The harder you try, the worse it gets. And in big games, if things tighten up, you’re dead. But if you just stay relaxed..

My heroes were the West Indies, the early West Indies teams I watched while growing up. Like Viv Richards, they just seemed so chilled out all the time. They knew they were talented...”

Great thoughts, coming from someone who’s ‘been there, done that.’

So with a change in the coach and the chief selector in the offing, maybe this Indian can take a leaf out of the Australian book and stay relaxed as they take on the world,one last time under Rahul Dravid.

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Cut out the noise and the hype and just focus on the cricket alone. Back their talent and ability and do their best.

 They owe it to 1.4 billion people.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author. The author is a veteran Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force, who has played Ranji Trophy for Services.

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