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What is India's T20 foreign policy?

From over-indulgence to conspicuous self-restrain, the philosophy around India's T20 approach is both confounding and incongruous. Beyond the incomprehension perhaps lies a concerted attempt to keep it that way.

cricket Updated: Mar 13, 2014 00:57 IST
Sai Prasad Mohapatra

From over-indulgence to conspicuous self-restrain, the philosophy around India's T20 approach is both confounding and incongruous. Beyond the incomprehension perhaps lies a concerted attempt to keep it that way.

The sheer disconnect between the number of international appearances and the IPL outings highlights an imbalance in India's international T20 representation.

Whether it is a case of misplaced priorities or a self-limiting technique can only be examined through an analysis of where the T20 format figures in the pecking order for the Indian team.

Sample the paradox: 46 international matches spread over a period of 8 years against 78 matches on Pakistan's account is illustrative of India's disinterest in T20 Internationals. Barring Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, India have played fewer international T20 matches vis-a-vis the rest of the Test playing nations.

Yet most of the Indian players have played close to 150 T20 league matches — far more than most others.

A reluctant entrant after dragging its feet and defying the new order, India took a bit of time to shed their inhibitions and misgivings about the format itself.

And in the order of acceptance, India were the last of the 10 Test playing nations to embrace the format. But barely eight months later, with the 2007 World Cup win, India had found cricket opium in T20.

The Indian Premier League was born out of one-upmanship with the rebel Indian Cricket League than as an original invent.

But the glaring mismatch in its commitment to play lesser T20 internationals is both instructive and restrictive, partly owing to the ICC, and partly of the BCCI-ordained design.

Former BCCI secretary, Niranjan Shah, says: "I was in office when the T20 format came into being. The ICC clearly told us to give primacy to Test and One-day cricket, and told us to go slow on T20. The mandate was to not play more than two T20 matches on a tour. So, all our FTP were designed in such a way that T20 never infringed on our One-day matches and we could not have promoted T20 at the cost of one day cricket, which was our commitment to the ICC."

That's not all. The bumper success of the IPL in its first season also forced the BCCI to preserve its brand value and hence the board went slow on T20Is, to shield the IPL from the threat of competition. The grand display of all Indian marquee players can only be globalised and monetised through the league.

Soon, from protective to possessive, the BCCI kept shooting down requests from several other leagues around the world asking for Indian players' participation. Requests for Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan and Piyush Chawla were just a few which were met with a blunt ‘No' from the board.

A BCCI functionary not willing to be named defends the stand: "One may go on to analyse why India played fewer number of T20Is, but where is the time to play more T20s once our players recover after seven weeks of IPL and another three weeks of Champions League? Also, we want to preserve our best players for a cricket spectacle like IPL. And so long as we give primacy to Tests and One-dayers, a little bit of breather is all that we can give them by not playing too many T20Is."

Familiar Situation
A little low on T20I experience, India though for a change are gearing up for the World T20 before the IPL. Save for the opening tournament in 2007, all subsequent editions of the World T20 have followed the IPL, with critics blaming the league for burnout and India's poor performances.

The scope, however, is limited this time. "It may be a good thing for the team, going into the tournament with a fresh mind," said Lalchand Rajput, under whom India won the inaugural edition.