For India, T20-focussed approach not easy to achieve
Data from a survey by the international cricketers’ body shows T20 matches by India are far fewer than other national teams
Only 18% players globally belong to ‘traditional markets’, who have a home domestic or international contract. The growing trend (82%) is for players to move towards hybrid (42%) or free agent status (40%). Almost all of the 18% -- taking the top 100 of the T20 Player Index as a sample group -- belong to India. These are the key findings of a report by the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA)
FICA’s Men’s Professional Cricket Global Employment Report was released on Tuesday.
The Indian cricketer is unaffected by the shifting landscape of professional cricket employment because his T20 commitments outside of internationals are restricted to IPL. This helps India field full-strength teams in bilateral cricket round the year. The report shows Virat Kohli playing 89 days of international cricket in 2018 and Rishabh Pant 75 days in 2021 with a sizeable portion coming from Tests. It helps the Indian cricket board (BCCI) regulate player workload from the mushrooming T20 franchise leagues.
But is their T20 vision being hampered as a consequence?
After the semi-final exit at the T20 World Cup, there’s been a clarion call in Indian cricket to wake up to the demands of T20 cricket. There are calls for a separate team, specialist captain, specialist coach, and selectors with a contemporary outlook. Given skipper Rohit Sharma’s workload, it won’t be a surprise if the new national selectors name a new T20I captain. Of course, it may be easier said than done.
As per the FICA report, before T20 cricket arrived, 22% international matches comprised Test cricket in 2003. That dropped to 9% by 2021 with T20I matches taking up 71% in the calendar. T20Is have eaten up the ODI space. Its space has shrunk to 78 from 19%. While Pakistan played most fixtures, most of them T20Is, ‘England and India played the most Tests, and most days of cricket, like in the previous years.
With Test cricket’s commercial viability proving to be a challenge, the 2023-27 Future Tours Program (FTP) also shows India, England and Australia playing the most Tests.
However, in the case of England and Australia, their selectors get a much wider field to pick their T20 teams from. Australia’s Tim David was parachuted into international cricket following his success in leagues world over. English cricket has benefitted after shedding its reluctance to let players feature in IPL. Now, ex-Test skipper Joe Root wants to try his luck at the IPL auction to boost his T20 prospects.
T20 freelancers play in multiple leagues -- David plays in seven, 14 play in three leagues outside home, 58 play in two and 138 play in one, says the report. No Indian player features in the list of those playing more than 40 days of domestic league cricket.
If Hardik Pandya becomes India’s T20 captain, he would have only nine T20Is to play until next year’s ODI World Cup that ends in November. His sitting out the New Zealand and Bangladesh ODIs may help his injury-prone body, but it would have left his band of Indian T20 specialists, if India had one, rusty.
For India’s selectors, IPL becomes the ultimate to measure form, fitness and performance. The continued failure to win a World T20 trophy since 2007 though proves that it’s not enough. Therefore, the selectors look to draw from facets of a Test or ODI that resemble T20 action.
Riyan Parag’s blistering 174 in the Vijay Hazare Trophy one-day quarter-finals for Assam and his 10-over spell can therefore be used as a test case for his T20I prospects. Rishabh Pant’s belligerent batting in Tests has been used as a benchmark to pick him for T20Is.
Unlike England, India find it hard to internalise a deep-dyed T20 vision.