“These guys are physically and mentally drained, six months in a bubble and we would have ideally liked a bigger gap between the IPL and the World Cup,” outgoing head coach Ravi Shastri said in an interview broadcast by Star Sports just before the start of India’s last game of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup against Namibia; a game that was of no consequence as Virat Kohli and Co had no chance of making the semi-finals.

Shastri further added: “It’s when the big games come and when the pressure hits you - you are not that switched on as you should be. And it’s not an excuse. We take defeat because we are not scared of losing. Because in trying to win, you will lose a game. Here we didn’t try to win because that X-factor was missing.”

Shastri was only echoing the thoughts of bowling coach Bharat Arun, pacer Jasprit Bumrah, skipper Kohli, former India skipper Kapil Dev and former India cricketer Madan Lal.

And all these opinions, now expressed freely, point towards the need for a break before the World Cup; the need to have gotten some rest – both physically and mentally. Any rational person would agree with the assessment. It is not an excuse. It is reality as it stands. But the question to be asked is why they didn’t get the break that would have allowed them to approach the tournament with a fresh mind and body... why didn’t the Board of Control for Cricket in India step-in?

The core issue

Now, step back for a moment and approach the problem from a different angle. Say for a moment, the Indian Premier League was run by a different organisation and the BCCI was in charge of Indian cricket and Indian cricket alone.

In that scenario, if the schedules of the IPL and the T20 World Cup were clashing, what would the BCCI have done? Would it have just patted the other organisation on its back for hosting the IPL brilliantly or would it have sent out an SOS to the Indian players saying they need to take an urgent break after the long England tour?

This is, of course, a hypothetical scenario since the BCCI runs both the IPL and Indian cricket. But it is a scenario that exposes the conflict of interest that is holding India back.

The IPL is great for Indian cricket. We see lots of new talent emerging every year and the BCCI earns a lot of money which can help make the game even stronger. But it also robs Indian cricket of an off-season; it also robs players of an opportunity to play in leagues around the world (because the BCCI doesn’t allow it), and because the Board wants to ensure that the IPL brand remains strong, it virtually never makes any demands on the IPL teams.

So while England’s Jos Buttler had a nice little break before the World Cup, the Indians simply had no opportunity to put their feet up. And whether the BCCI likes it or not, it surely did impact the team.

The BCCI, on its part, can turn around and say that it has never stopped players from taking a break. But the onus, in this case, is on BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and Co to establish a framework that allows India to put Indian cricket first; a framework that will somehow mitigate the cost of missing out on the IPL for both players and the franchisee.

Ganguly, a former India captain himself, would have known how vital time away from the game would be before a big tournament but why was he just a mute spectator as all of this unfolded before his eyes?

Not just a one-off

Some might argue that this year was a one-off given the way the IPL had to be stopped and restarted due to the pandemic. But we saw Rohit Sharma play in the IPL last season despite an injury that forced him to miss matches for India and over the years we have seen player fatigue become an obvious issue.

All of this shows that there needs to be a differentiation between who runs the IPL and who runs Indian cricket because right now the BCCI clearly is not being able to think things through – profit first or Indian cricket first?

The IPL is the BCCI’s cash cow and it has kept them afloat in tough times. The Board will not jeopardise it and they shouldn’t either. To keep the money flowing into the coffers is important. But at the same time, the IPL shouldn’t be allowed to jeopardise Indian cricket either. If there is no middle path, then they need to make one.

What is good for the IPL does not necessarily have to be good for Indian cricket and the sooner the BCCI understands that, the better. With more teams coming into the fold from next season and the number of matches going up, the Board needs to be extremely prudent in their scheduling or it won’t be a simple killing of the golden goose, it will be a massacre.