The Indian Premier League, since its launch in 2008, has become a sporting indulgence every summer. Cricketing purists may sneer at Twenty20s and their lack of historical resonance, but there is no denying the IPL’s popularity and resilience. The 12th edition, which started in Chennai on Saturday with an easy victory for the holders Chennai Super Kings, will span diverse venues for the 60 matches. Despite the elections being held through seven phases during April-May, the Board of Control for Cricket in India has ensured that every franchise gets its rightful share of home and away matches. But besides the immediacy of sixes, dot-balls and ecstatic fans, the current IPL has to deal with the elephant in the room. It is expected to conclude on May 12, and immediately the biggest tournament in the International Cricket Council calendar awaits the players. The World Cup starts on May 30, with host England taking on South Africa at the Oval. India will open its campaign with the game against South Africa at Southampton on June 5. But there isn’t enough time for the Indian team to recuperate.
Virat Kohli’s men have been playing without a break over the last few months, with tours of Australia and New Zealand followed by the limited overs series against visiting Australians. They then plunged into the IPL, and now with the World Cup looming large, that old debate of club vs country has bubbled up again, and rightly so. There are fears about Indian and overseas cricketers picking up injuries in the league, which might scupper their World Cup plans. The national selectors, who are keeping an eye out for some surprise talent emerging in the league, are hoping that the core group of established stars will remain fit for cricket’s showpiece event. There is speculation about the BCCI and the Indian team management having had a word with team-owners over workload management so that key players don’t suffer a burnout. Yet, there is no clarity about this plan, and the fear of fatigue derailing the cricketers is a genuine one. Amidst this confusion, the IPL still presents an opportunity for a few Indian players to press their claims to be on the flight to London. The Australian duo of Steve Smith and David Warner, who are coming back after a one-year ban following the ball-tampering crisis at Cape Town in South Africa last March, are also keen to excel for Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad, respectively, and claim their Baggy Green caps. Strangely, the domestic tournament with an international flavour, as Rahul Dravid described the IPL, continues to have no space for Pakistan cricketers, raising questions about its organising principles. Politics and commerce have reinforced each other to make an even deeper impact on the IPL.