There was never a question of ‘would they’ or ‘wouldn’t they’. Right from the onset, the Mumbai Indians looked a unit on a mission. Those daunting 20 points on the rank table tell a story that perhaps unfolded a few months ago. No, I am not hinting at the season’s biggest buy, Kieron Pollard. Neither am I talking about the in-form Sachin Tendulkar. But some smart thinking that has assured them a place in the semi-finals.
Interestingly, the four teams placed at the bottom of the chart have been heard saying that they didn’t play good cricket at crucial junctures, which cost them a place in the final four. The point isn’t just that.
The IPL has seen different teams gaining and losing ground every year. Is it only about those few crucial overs that separate a win from a loss? Yes and no. The fact is that most teams did little in the last three seasons to strengthen sides.
Yes, they bought good players, and even scouted for talent from the domestic circuit. But is it enough? That is perhaps the point most teams missed and the Mumbai Indians picked. While T20 may be random in nature, its preparation is systematic. Right from organising camps to holding practice matches, this outfit has been at the job right from the word go. And all this was well in advance.
It is not smart to shut shop once the IPL gets over. But most franchises have been doing this.
Even now, nothing will happen till as late as after the Champions League, when the auction happens. But, I daresay it’ll be too late by then. For once, the first-class season kicks off and the good players will be busy playing for their respective states. Yes, the scouting can be carried out but there’s very little you can do to make that player IPL-ready.
The biggest problem these IPL teams face is the lack of time. The team gets together only a few days prior to the tournament, which is not enough. But unfortunately, that will not change in the years to come. So, what to do to minimise the handicap? While international cricketers won’t be available, the local talent definitely is.
The trick is to have a structure, which is operational throughout the year. To find young players who have the ability to hit the long ball or bowl yorkers and slower ones. They may not be good first-class cricketers but a good T20 cricketer doesn’t need to be one. T20 requires a different set of skills and if you tick a few boxes, the rest can be worked on.
Then that academy should put these kids through a tough regimen of physical fitness and skills training to make them IPL-ready. A Wasim Akram will be effective only if he gets quality and quantity time with the bowlers, for I didn’t see much difference in KKR’s bowling.
We have seen players like T. Suman, Kedar Jadhav, etc. can make an impact hence there is no harm in investing in them. They come a lot cheaper. It’s imperative that the IPL teams don’t see this as a 45-day tournament but a yearlong activity, something that the MI have incorporated in their plan.
It’s time the franchises go beyond first-class and U-19 to recruit players. The players might need more nurturing but I’m sure it’ll be worth the effort.