Timing, they say about selection, is everything. You score hundreds of runs with the selectors not watching, and on the day they turn up, someone else scores and gets picked.
Clearly Rishabh Pant got the timing of the innings of his life wrong. Two days after India dropped him from the T20I side – he had played two matches in Sri Lanka – Pant walked in at No. 4 and scored 128 unbeaten runs out of his struggling team’s 187. Against the best attack in the IPL. Virender Sehwag was impressed, and Ian Bishop called Pant the “most fearless and powerful” young batsman he had seen. Not only is he the highest run-getter this IPL, his strike rate of 179.62 is streets ahead of the other batsmen who have aggregated more than 100 runs (stats before the IPL match of May 15 began). Yet in the India side he had to make way for MS Dhoni, who was rested during the Sri Lanka tour and has come back looking at his best since 2014 and has had arguably his best IPL this year.
Pant is not the only one desperately unlucky to not make an India side. Krunal Pandya has been one of the best Indian players in the IPL over the last few years. Sanju Samson carried Rajasthan Royals for the first half of this season. Mayank Agarwal scored 1200 first-class runs. It is a sign of the depth in Indian cricket that – especially in T20 – you can at any time think of five to six players unlucky to not make the final 15.
How good would it be if, instead of twiddling their thumbs at home – especially in the unforgiving heat, which makes match practice all but impossible – these players could play in T20 leagues abroad?
It’s not just these youngsters. Veteran spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, for example, are working hard to present their case for selection in India’s limited-overs sides after they were dropped last year. Ashwin, especially, has added legspin to his repertoire to meet the demands of the shorter versions. How beneficial would it be if he got to work on those variations in England’s T20 Blast while India play the limited-overs leg of their England tour in July?
Yes, they will all make money, but their game will only improve. A match situation teaches you more than any amount of nets can, especially in T20. And even when it comes to training and planning, only good can come out of being part of different dressing rooms, different conversations, absorbing different kinds of intel.
Most importantly, though, this kind of exposure can help India develop what they are missing: a middle-order batsman who is good under pressure. The frequent complaint about the talent India is throwing up is that they are top-order batsmen, or if they bat in the middle order, not good enough under pressure. What better simulation of that pressure then than the chance to be the big dogs in T20 sides overseas, much like all the foreign players in the IPL are?
Then, if in an emergency close to next year’s World Cup, for instance, India need to pick a player from outside the core group they have identified, they will pick one with prior experience of having played competitively in those conditions.
There is mostly good to be had in allowing Indian players, when they are not representing India and when there is no domestic cricket on in India, to play in foreign T20 leagues. Of course the BCCI will need to watch these players’ workloads, which will call for good administration and planning.
All that is not likely to be called upon in near future because the BCCI is not going to change its stance of not letting its players play in T20 leagues abroad. It wants to protect the IPL brand.
The view within the BCCI is: we provide these players facilities and exposure; why then should they help promote other leagues? To the BCCI, the benefits to the players and the India team clearly pale in comparison to the damage they might cause to the IPL brand by just lending their names to another league.
The ad hoc nature of this decision can be understood through the lens of self-interest, but it might not stand the test of logic should someone challenge it. Virat Kohli, India’s captain, is allowed to miss a Test in order to play county cricket (for little compensation) because it will help his game. Why not let Pant or Pandya or Samson or Ashwin work on their T20 game when they are free and have no other India commitments?
No one will challenge the BCCI on this restriction of trade because it is the final authority on these matters, and it can be vindictive: just ask Jadeja, who made the mistake of responding to Mumbai Indians’ overtures and paid with a one-year ban. There is no player association to take up this cause either.
Of course, it is arguable whether the BCCI’s old guard would have even allowed Kohli to play county cricket, particularly at the expense of a Test match. So there are signs of flexibility from the board at least.
Before the IPL, hundreds of first-class cricketers fought for 11 to 15 spots in the India team, outside of which you were a nobody. It brought with it insecurity, sycophancy and desperation. The IPL has democratised cricket a little. As a result, the India cricketer is less insecure, less desperate. Perhaps it is time Indian cricket grew less insecure too.