In the not so dim and distant past, just a few years before the start of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Bob Woolmer was appointed the coach of the Pakistan team and Inzamam-ul-Haq its captain. Inzamam was, like many from our part of the world, a fairly emotional and expressive cricketer. And when Bob made a decision that Inzamam did not agree with, he would sulk and refuse to talk to his coach. A hard-bitten county cricket professional, Woolmer could just not understand that. Once he asked one of the other players why Inzamam was not talking to him, and he was told that Inzamam was hurt by the way he had been spoken to.
Bob stood there in stunned silence for about a minute and then exclaimed, “Why is he emotional about what I told him? For heaven’s sake, I’m not married to the man.”
The incident just about exemplified the divide between the East and the West in world of cricket. And the general lack of perspective in Australia or England on cricket in this part of the world.
Seven years have passed since. Today, Greg Shippard, the former Daredevils coach, could probably tell you exactly how Virender Sehwag likes his aloo parathas, many of the South African boys coming across understand more than a smattering of Hindi and Brett Lee will probably be able to hum most of the latest Bollywood item numbers.
Bhubaneswar Kumar would have honed his outswing under the tutelage of a certain Allan Donald and Debabrata Das from Siliguri religiously follows the pasta diet given by a South African trainer from Bloemfontein.
If the world has become a global village, the IPL has become the ‘nukkad’ of world cricket. The finest from around the cricket world come in to play, coach, commentate or even just observe. And the mix of big business, showbiz and international cricket has resulted in some fascinating situations.
One of the most immediate fallouts is that Indian domestic cricketers are no longer overawed by big international reputations. A few years ago, the divide between international cricket and Indian domestic cricket was so steep that many of the most prolific scorers and wicket takers in the national tournament were cruelly exposed when they faced top class international opposition. Today, that’s no longer a factor. If you want to see how Shikhar Dhawan might tackle Dale Steyn in South Africa — just walk into the Deccan Sun Risers nets on any practice day and see them having a go at each other. And while Steyn’s Twenty20 bowling may be very different from his test spells — Shikhar is definitely not going to face an unknown quantity. Anyone who you have whacked for a couple of sixes, albeit in a different format is just not going to have the same mesmerising effect on you. And in that, Twenty20 is truly the cruelest of formats. The lack of time to settle in means that you may have to attack, regardless of reputation. Great batsmen can look foolish and awkward, and even bowlers like Muttiah Muralitharan and Glenn McGrath have been taken to the cleaners by unheralded domestic cricketers.
That’s not the only quandary for a big name international cricketer. The auction format will always generate uneven supply and demand — and prices that are completely situation based. So Mumbai Indians skipper Ricky Ponting would be wondering why Glen Maxwell with less than one international season under his belt would have commanded more than double Ponting’s price. On the other hand, Daniel Christian’s two $900,000 seasons would have really improved his bank balance. However, after being dropped by the Deccan Sun Risers, he has now joined the Royal Challengers Bangalore the third year at a ninth of that price.
There’s one more complication. The playing rules of the IPL are so designed that a minimum of seven Indian players always have to play in the XI. Given most teams have 10 or more international stars, you have some of the greatest players sitting out games. It gets even crueler when you look at fast bowlers who are not really at their most effective in low slow Twenty20 conditions that’s about 80% of IPL pitches. A lot of these players have probably never been dropped from a team for a really long time. They are automatic selections in their national teams. For Brett Lee, Morne Morkel, Kumar Sangakkara or Brendon McCullum to sit out an international game for any reason other than injury is almost unthinkable. But the IPL has seen them and many more watch critical games from the sidelines. I believe it has given them a perspective that they would never have enjoyed had they not come to the IPL.
So, here’s this league where you could be picked up for a price that is not close to what your skill deserves, sit on the bench while watching an Indian cricketer with a tenth of your experience and ability take the field. And have your proud international reputation torn to shreds by a desperate batsman with luck on his side.
You could also make more money in a year than you made in your entire cricket career, party with film stars and industry captains, and be the darling and adopted son of a city that may have booed you the last time you played here for your country.
If you are a coach, this is where your retirement fund could become a reality overnight. And for trainers and physiotherapists there is always the option of looking after film stars and business tycoons.
That’s why they always come back — year after year.
Joy Bhattacharjya is an adviser with Kolkata Knight Riders
The views expressed by the author are personal