It has become quite fashionable to blame the Indian Premier League (IPL) for everything that is going wrong in Indian cricket. From politics to excess money to India's woeful Test form, it seems that IPL is the root of all evil.
That is one of the popular reasons being cited for losing six straight foreign Test series in a row. On closer inspection, it really does not appear to be so.
1) Where’s the causality?
The IPL debuted on 18 April 2008. While we lost the Sri Lanka Test series narrowly 1-2 after that, we created a record by remaining undefeated in Test series for more than two years spanning 11 series from October 2008 to June 2011.
It may be noted that this included the tough foreign tours of South Africa (where India tied for the first time), the New Zealand tour (where India won a series after 1968), the West Indies (where India won a series for the third time) and a tied Sri Lanka series. We became No. 1 in the ICC Test rankings for the first time and stayed there for 18 months. We effected our first ever 4-0 Test whitewash against Australia in 2013.
We won a bilateral ODI series in August 2008 in Sri Lanka and created a record by winning 5/6 ODI series/tournaments held there including the Asia Cup 2010.
In ODIs we became we won the World Cup in 2011, remained No. 1 in the ICC ODI rankings from January 2013 to January 2014 and also won the ICC Champions Trophy. We entered a purple patch after the IPL and our only exception was foreign Tests. But the IPL began in April 2008 and we crashed in foreign Tests in June 2011, so it is extremely difficult to fix causality.
2. Is IPL affecting Test batting?
The other argument given is that IPL has spoiled our cricketers’ game at the Test level. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid had been playing Test cricket for donkey’s years and started playing in 2008 but crashed in 2011. You can’t blame the IPL for that!
VVS Laxman, the man who hardly played IPL, performed the worst among the Big Three as mentioned above. Murali Vijay started playing Tests much better after he started playing IPL and is India’s leading Test run-getter for 2014.
Virat Kohli is excellent in Tests, ODIs, international T20s and IPL. One form doesn’t seem to affect the other. Lokesh Rahul was associated with Royal Challengers Bangalore before Team India and yet he became the first Indian opener in Australia to play more than 250 balls in a Test innings in Australia after more than 20 years.
3. IPL fatigue?
People point to fatigue due to IPL. But then as mentioned above Laxman only played Test cricket and that didn’t help in 2011. Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay are not in the ODI team. All the teams are different nowadays and the workload is more only in players like Dhoni and Kohli who seem to be flourishing.
Dhoni may have given up his Test captaincy but the fact remains that he’s our best wicket-keeper and No. 7 batsman in the five-day format as well as being sterling in the shorter formats.
4. The T20 World Cup contradiction
India won the T20 World Cup in 2007 and the IPL was launched in 2008. It should have helped us in the T20 World Cup, but we failed to make it to three straight semi-finals and choked in the 2014 final.
What does it tell you that immediately after the IPL was launched, we did much better in Tests (a totally different format) and much worse in T20 World Cups (the same format as IPL)? It tells us that Tests, ODIs, International T20s and IPL teams are all different and they don’t affect the other.
If we are losing foreign Tests, then it has more to do with our spineless pace attack and less to do with IPL. Our spin quartet ruled from 1968 to the early 1980s. Kapil Dev ruled the 1980s. That was a competitive phase in foreign Tests.
The decline and retirement of Kapil meant that 1990s was our worst phase. Then Zaheer Khan ruled the 2000s and that marked another competitive phase in foreign Tests. His decline and retirement in the 2010 saw another collapse.
5. Politics, match-fixing, greed and conflict of interest
Again all these things were there much before IPL. Match-fixing and Jagmohan Dalmiya’s politics were both there in the 1990s. Conflict of interest is a universal problem in India and it was the ODIs that made the BCCI into a money minting machine which changed the rules of the game forever.
Tests, ODIs, International T20s and the IPL. In some ways they are mutually exclusive and sorting out their problems should be seen that way. The IPL is here to stay and we have to live with it and move on.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/