The Indian Premier League 2021 resumes against the backdrop of much tumult in cricket in the past fortnight. The contentious cancellation of the fifth Test between India and England was widely ascribed to India’s players putting the IPL over all else — in other words, lucre over the country. Even before this perennial debate had ended, Virat Kohli suddenly announced that he would relinquish the T20 captaincy after the World Cup, creating a storm.
The two events are unconnected. Yet for different reasons, the next few weeks of the IPL have become perhaps even more newsworthy than usual. Particularly in the second aspect where the focus will be sharper on three of India’s biggest cricketing stars — Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. India’s decision to not play in the final Test of the absorbing series against England threw the sport into turmoil on several counts.
There was a massive financial setback to the England and Wales Cricket Board, reportedly between 30 and 40 million pounds, which the ECB wasn’t willing to forego. Also, the verdict of the Test rubber was left in suspense. Parleys are still on between the BCCI and ECB to resolve the imbroglio. The ECB’s original stand that India had forfeited the Test, leading to a 2-2 drawn series, was hastily revised after the BCCI was unbending to accept this scenario.
Instead, the Indian board offered to play a one-off Test or two extra T20Is when it tours England next year. The matter is now lodged with the ICC. Was the decision by India’s players to not play the fifth Test made only with participation in the IPL in mind? The answer is not found in a simple `yes/no’ binary. The IPL is obviously a hugely important fixture for every Indian player, but the fear of Covid in influencing the team’s decision to skip the last Test can’t be glossed over.
That the players traveled from London to Manchester after the fourth Test despite chief coach Ravi Shastri testing positive, and his support staff too forced into isolation suggests they were willing to play at Old Trafford. That assistant physio Yogesh Parmar, who was treating several players and in physical touch with them, also tested positive appears to have spooked Kohli’s men.
But this development was soon overwhelmed by Kohli’s stunning decision to surrender the T20 captaincy after the World Cup, conflicting statements from the player and the BCCI raising several questions. Kohli said in his statement on social media that he wanted to reduce the ‘workload’ and hence the need to give up the T20 captaincy. The BCCI’s statement which followed, however, spoke of a ‘roadmap’ that was being planned for some six months. Only some days earlier, with stories swirling in the media that Kohli was likely to be replaced as T20, perhaps even ODI captain, board officials had come out with strong denials, alleging wild media speculation.
What exactly has been transpiring between Kohli and the board is unknown, but it is fair to assume that it is not as has been laid out by both parties for public consumption. Something was probably brewing after the appointment of Dhoni as a mentor for the World Cup. On the face of it, it’s an excellent move considering Dhoni’s track record and credentials. Also, the team under captain Kohli and coach Shastri was falling short of expectations. In a way, this was putting Kohli — who had enjoyed an unfettered run as captain — on notice. The fortunes of Kohli, Dhoni, and captain-in-waiting in T20Is, Rohit, will be watched keenly in the second half of the IPL.
Almost every team has also been affected by players opting out because of bubble fatigue or whatever else. This means captains and coaches have to forge fresh combinations after working out new strategies and tactics with little scope for trial and error.