The Indian Premier League (IPL), till now blamed for disrupting the India players' focus on national team duty, has been left silently cursing the cricket board for agreeing to play in a Twenty20 international against South Africa four days before the tournament kicks off.
Seven of the nine franchises have players in the squad. They are upset after the preparatory camps of some wore a deserted look with players featuring in the 4-day Syed Mushtaq Ali Twenty20 tournament, which started in Mumbai on Friday, also absent. The T20 in Johannesburg on March 31 is to commemorate 150 years of Indians settlers in South Africa.
It is not just the India stars who are missing from the camp, crucial for planning before the tournament begins on April 4. Many foreign stars are also away. South Africa's New Zealand tour ends just before the league starts while Australia's Caribbean tour will continue well into the event.
"The T20 has also held back South African players like Richard Levi and Robin Petersen. Rohit Sharma will also play in the match," a Mumbai Indians official, who did wish to be named, said. The MI camp started at the Wankhede Stadium on Monday with just around 10 players and a couple of prominent names like RP Singh and Ambati Rayudu. Two more players left the camp on Thursday to join their state sides for the Mushtaq Ali Tournament.
As if this mess wasn't enough, the BCCI has also scheduled the felicitation for the just-retired Rahul Dravid, also the Rajasthan Royals skipper, in Mumbai on Tuesday. The entire India squad members and other prominent players, past and current, are scheduled to attend.
An official from Kolkata Knight Riders, led by Gautam Gambhir and with India players Yusuf Pathan and Manoj Tiwary in their ranks, pointed out the hopeless situation. "See, all major teams are in the middle of some series," said the official, who didn't want to be named. "It's difficult to say whether their absence will affect the IPL preparations, but at least they are in practice," he added. KKR, whose camp began on Friday, are not sure when Gambhir will join the team.
The India squad will return from South Africa on Mar. 31. All captains - there are three in the India squad - will have to be in Chennai during the opening ceremony on April 3 before joining their respective sides.
(With inputs from Somshuvra Laha)