Just after Rohit Sharma surprised most watchers by walking out for the toss in Mumbai Indians’ inconsequential last league match of the Indian Premier League, the presenter threw a question his way.
“Everything fit and fine with you?”
“Yeah, looks like that.”
It was a tricky question. Ravi Shastri had told Times Now that he could get injured again if he is not careful, and Sourav Ganguly had told PTI that “Rohit himself knows that he has got a long career ahead and it’s not just this IPL or next series for him”.
But here he was, just after Ganguly had said Rohit had a hamstring tear, striding to the middle for the toss. There are some players who miraculously recover from injuries. Maybe, that is what happened to the MI skipper.
Rohit played the next game for MI too. Even though he didn’t contribute much, he was on the field throughout. Fit and fine? Sir, yes sir.
But then on Monday, the BCCI sent a press release detailing the changes made to the India squad for Australia. Now, many were expecting Rohit to be part of all three squads again given that he had ‘proven’ his fitness by actually playing. Instead, there were more questions.
Rohit Sharma - The BCCI Medical Team has been monitoring Rohit Sharma’s fitness and has briefed All-India Senior Selection Committee on the same. In consultation with Mr Sharma, it has been decided to rest him for the ODIs and T20Is in Australia to regain full fitness and he has been included in India’s Test squad for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.— BCCI press release
The keywords in the above statement are ‘to regain full fitness’. He has been rested to regain full fitness and that by definition would imply, he isn’t fit enough to play for India yet.
So why is he playing the IPL?
Simply put, if the niggle is big enough for selectors to rest him from India matches, shouldn’t he be taking the time off for the T20 tournament and getting fit for the India games, or is that the BCCI attaches lower importance to a bilateral series as compared to the IPL?
Just think about it, not fit enough to play for India but still playing for his IPL team. What if he aggravates his injury and why is the BCCI allowing this to happen to a contracted player? To one of the most important cogs in the Indian team? The vice captain?
Sure, cricketers play with niggles all the time. But to see a player play in the IPL but miss India matches due to the same niggle still feels a little off.
Is this truly a case of club vs country; of Mumbai Indians telling BCCI that they will play Rohit Sharma no matter what or is this the BCCI simply deciding that IPL brings in more eyeballs and money, and it makes more sense to allow the India opener, who is one of the best white-ball cricketers in the world, skip the T20I and ODI series against Australia rather than the T20 tournament?
Usually, the IPL is followed by a series against one of the smaller nations – Zimbabwe, West Indies, Sri Lanka... and many top players choose to skip them. They rest, they recover. No one pays any heed to that. But this time, given how strange 2020 has been, the next opponent was Australia and BCCI still chose to rather have Rohit play in the IPL than play Down Under.
In this FTP cycle (2019-’23), the IPL is the only domestic Twenty20 league which has a dedicated window for a period of two months, across April and May.
Slowly but surely, cricket is moving away from bilateral series and attaching more importance to T20 tournaments, which generate more money and eyeballs for the Boards and the sponsors.
Glaringly, this also shows how the value of a bilateral tournament is dropping in the eyes of the BCCI. The Tests still have value – each match counts towards the Test championship – and there is the romance of the longer format but the T20Is and ODIs, which have long lost context – simply don’t matter for the big teams (despite the introduction of the Super League).
And that is the future we all thought we were staring at. Only, as the Rohit Sharma decision shows, the future is already here.