India skipper Virat Kohli has attributed the team’s below-par display in England on the injury woes that plagued the side’s pace department during the tour.
During a meeting with the Committee of Administrators earlier this month, the skipper seeked to rest key pacers during the Indian Premier League to keep them fresh and fit for the men’s Cricket World Cup which begins just days after the T20 tournament.
According to a senior BCCI official, who is privy to the details of the meeting, Kohli was concerned about possible injuries to Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah. While the former wasn’t available for the duration of the five-Test series, and Bumrah missed the first two. Both pacers were laid low with injury just days before the Tests kicked off.
Along with Kohli, coach Ravi Shastri, chief selector MSK Prasad, vice-captains Rohit Sharma and AJinkya Rahane were also present for the meeting. IPL COO Hemang Amin and BCCI operations manager were also in attendance.
The meeting was convened to take stock of India’s recent foreign tours to South Africa and England. While India lost the former 2-1, they were handed a 4-1 defeat in the latter.
To avoid a similar fate at the World Cup, which incidentally will also be held in England, Kohli suggested that these pacers be given some time to rest before the high-stakes quadrennial event.
According to the official, though, others, including Rohit, were not quite enthused by the skipper’s idea. Rohit, who is captain of IPL franchise Mumbai Indians, felt that he would ill-afford to leave Bumrah out of the playing XI if his side were to reach the play-offs.
Interestingly, there was no discussion about resting batsmen or for that matter other bowlers in the side.
The suggestion has clearly divided opinion and also raised the issue of club vs country. In terms of importance, the Cricket World Cup naturally holds more weightage and should be priority.
India faced a humbling defeat to Pakistan in the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy, the last high-profile tournament on the ODI calendar. For Kohli and Co, the 2019 World Cup provides a chance to make amends. For someone like Kohli, a World Cup triumph as captain would firmly put him atop the list of greats in modern day cricket. For the current crop of high-achieving Indian international players, such a win could provide a legacy marker which would define their careers. All effort to achieve this mark seems fair game.
However, the IPL has proved to be a boon to Indian cricket. It has many stakeholders and is one of the prime reasons why Indian cricket is in the pink of health, both in terms of generating quality players and financial hearth. To treat is as a secondary product would only damage its brand value and prove counter-productive in the long run.
During the meeting there was a suggestion made to compensate the players who might miss out of their earning from the IPL if they are to be rested. It’s a huge cost to pay just to have someone well-rested. Other than the match fees and retainer, there multiple takeaways from the IPL for a player. With tournament capturing the collective attention of the nation for much of its run-time each season, the value of the stint cannot be quantified in every case.
Kohli has already made his nationalistic inclination clear. It is a great sign for Indian cricket that the skipper of the senior men’s team is putting his foot down and attaching more importance to country over club.
Several BCCI officials, though, have argued that the gap between the end of the IPL season and the start of the World Cup should suffice as preparation time. While the dates haven’t been finalised, the IPL is likely to begin on March 29 and will end on May 19. India face South Africa in their opening World Cup clash on June 5.
The 15-day gap isn’t ideal, but it is a decent solution. Also, BCCI might argue that not all players would play up to the end of the IPL and can always begin training for the World Cup early. The IPL also provides match practice that can never harm the player’s form.
Others might argue that the IPL, in essence, is a hectic tournament which entails countless hours of travel and training and match-time, that invariably leads to fatigue – not just physical but mental as well. To head into an intensive tournament like the World Cup straightaway isn’t an ideal situation.
Cricket, though, isn’t the only sport which faces such a dilemma. The 2018 Fifa World Cup kicked off in Russia this year on June 14, while the last club engagement - the Champions League final - was held on May 26.
There is precedent to this arrangement. So Indian cricketers aren’t the only athletes in the world who have to go through the rigours of a hectic schedule. Kohli also seems to be putting the blame for the side’s failings overseas squarely on the unavailability of the pacers, which also is questionable.
The batsmen, other than Kohli himself, failed to shine on both tours. To only fixate on the injury woes of the pacers does not feel right.
It is a fine line between genuinely being interested in addressing a problem and giving an excuse for one’s failings. It’s hard to say under which bracket does one classify Kohli’s suggestion.