IPL and the unrealistic hope of workload management

Mar 24, 2023 12:30 PM IST

IPL's proximity to another world final has everyone wondering about player fatigue. Is Indian cricket dealing with it any better than in the past?

During the recent India-Australia series, a member of India’s support staff was joking about how he wouldn't mind Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Gujarat Titans (GT) failing to make the playoffs.

Mohammad Shami of Gujarat Titans celebrates with his captain Hardik Pandya(PTI) PREMIUM
Mohammad Shami of Gujarat Titans celebrates with his captain Hardik Pandya(PTI)

Not that he had anything against the popular Bengaluru franchise or the defending champions. But because that would give Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami – both are expected to be India’s lead bowling acts at the World Test Championship (WTC) final – an extra week to prepare and leave for England early after winding up their Indian Premier League (IPL) duties.

There’s a general acceptance now of the proximity between a long, exhausting Indian Premier League (IPL) season and marquee world events. An ICC white-ball world event is being played annually, the WTC finale every two years. It’s not the players and the coaches who sit and chart down these schedules. The player roster is dictated by broadcast money which ultimately also trickles down to the players. This is why, despite India’s current fitness and rehab mechanisms appearing like a bedlam of confusion, no one’s throwing a curve ball.


"I mean, it's all up to the franchises now," said Indian captain Rohit Sharma after the third ODI against Australia in Chennai. "The franchises own them (players) now, so we've given some indications or some kind of borderline kind of thing to the teams. But at the end of the day, it's up to the franchise and most importantly it's the players you know, they have to take care of their own body.”

Sharma, who will be leading Mumbai Indians in the IPL starting March 31, could not have put it across in a more frank manner. He’s seen it all before; he was at the centre of the workload debate with his hamstring injury during IPL 2020.

"They (players) are all adults. So, they have to look after their body and just if they feel that it's getting a little too much, they can always talk about it and have a break in one or two games. I doubt that will happen, but…" he added.

Former India head coach Ravi Shastri recently pulled out an appropriate one-liner explaining the situation when he said ‘IPL is one of the greatest physiotherapists’.

Repetitive injuries, there have been many, recently. But pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah’s continued absence has become the real pain point. Without Bumrah, for Shami and Siraj to step up is a must. India will also most likely use Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur (both Kolkata Knight Riders) in the WTC final. All of them are key players for their respective franchises.


“We will have to see as to what the situation is,” Vikram Solanki, Director of Cricket for GT said in a media meet on Thursday when asked if Shami would play all the games. “We have to be respectful of the fact that fast bowling is a very demanding job. He is coming off a lot of cricket.

He added: “The monitoring of each and every player is an ongoing process. Shami is one of those players who will have to be monitored carefully to make sure that every preparation and resource is used to ensure he is in the best possible shape.”

The usage of GPS data to manage player workload has become a common practice with the Indian cricket team. Shami was rested for the third Test and Siraj from the fourth Test of the spin-dominated Australia home Test series.

That’s unlikely to happen during IPL. The league may only be a T20 competition, but the drill of constant training, matches and travel can take a toll.

But Solanki did speak of an open line of communication between sports science teams of the board and the franchise while explaining how Hardik Pandya’s workload was being monitored.

“We have a very good team here which is in regular contact with the BCCI team. Both the science and medicine teams are in very good contact to ensure that the best provision is made for Hardik to ensure that he is in the best possible shape whenever he walks out, whether it is for Gujarat or for India,” he said. “That should be the common (objective) on everybody’s mind. That we keep the cricketer’s interest front and centre.”

“It is an Indian tournament. So, it’s difficult to tell franchises that a player shouldn’t play X number of games for preventive care,” a franchise physio once explained. “But we are given points on how much certain key players should train and how much they should bowl during practice. As far as possible, these are followed. But the big injury risks come in the heat of competition when players are playing with niggles. In sport, it happens all the time.”

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    Rasesh Mandani loves a straight drive. He has been covering cricket, the governance and business side of sport for close to two decades. He writes and video blogs for HT.

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