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By Sunil Gavaskar
The cricket does not seem to stop for the players nowadays. Hardly had the ICC World Twenty Twenty finished than those players whose franchises had qualified for the Champions League had to fly from Colombo to South Africa. The teams that were already in the main tournament had at least a few days to acclimatize to the weather and get their body clocks on South African time. Some teams also played in warm up games though the rains in Johannesburg haven’t really helped much in getting useful time out in the middle. Remember for some of the players from the southern hemisphere this is the beginning of the season so some of them will be quite rusty as was seen in the ICC World Twenty Twenty too and so they might take a little time to get to their best and fire on all cylinders.
The benefit of the Indian Premier League could be seen at the dining room where players gather for their breakfast and to see players who only a few days back were duelling against each other for their countries, but now sharing the same table and talking amiably was heartening. To see Virender Sehwag, Ross Taylor and Morne Morkel at a table eating breakfast while on another table Shaun Pollock and Dwayne Smith and on yet another table some other nationalities sitting and talking as long lost friends catching up with each other was truly a sight for sore eyes.
The IPL maybe much maligned by people for a variety of reasons, but the biggest plus apart from making cricket a serious career option is how it has helped reduce animosity and unnecessary tension in international cricket by bringing players from different countries to play for a franchise. Spending almost six weeks together and going through the ups and downs of the tournament gets the players to know each other a lot better and understand the different cricketing cultures and attitudes and approach towards the game and that has meant much of the venomous abuse that was so much a part of the game prior to 2008 is now much reduced, if not altogether eradicated.
What has been seen of other leagues is that it simply does not have the finances and the glamour that the IPL has. India’s love for the shorter format of the game also means that the players are treated like royalty wherever they go and some players, who wouldn't even get a second glance in their countries despite being big player’s are huge in India and are mobbed wherever they go. The players thus enjoy coming down to play and though for some who have to sit out and not play it can be a long six weeks they still enjoy the trappings of being part of an IPL franchise.
The ICC is quite right in not allotting a window for the IPL because if they do so then other similar leagues will also want a window for their tournaments and if that happens then there will be no international cricket as we know it, but only the 20/20 leagues.
Still to enable players from all over the world to participate and not be at loggerheads with their respective boards it makes sense for some boards to adjust their schedule a little bit so that even their players can participate and not feel left out. So if the ECB can play their Tests in June as they used to not too long ago then their players will be able to play in most if not all the IPL matches. The ECB used to have only one team touring playing five or sometimes six Tests and the Tests would begin in the first week of June. If there were two teams touring then too the Test series for the team touring the first half would start in early June. However with the new TV contract that they have England have to play seven Tests sometimes and a one day series as well which means their season starts in mid May when the weather can be decidedly dodgy. They are quite rightly looking at their financial interest, but in the process several players and even the non contracted ones feel that they are missing out on the riches and glamour of the Indian Premier League.
The West Indies season also gets affected by the IPL, but most of their players even the contracted ones get time off to play the IPL. In the West Indies they know that playing in the IPL is more a financial necessity than a career move and so they are reasonable and understanding about it. That’s why Sunil Narine and Marlon Samuels were allowed to miss the important series against Australia and play in the IPL, but when it came to playing Tests in England, both players left the IPL and were in England to represent the West Indies.
If the IPL were to start a fortnight earlier in mid March and finish by the end of April or first week of May then all countries would be happy as it would not clash with their seasons and their players would not feel left out too and more importantly not have to choose between club and country.
If the BCCI can do that then it also will not have the flak that it regularly and often unnecessarily gets from the overseas media about being interested only in itself and making money. It is here that the ICC can take the initiative and encourage all the boards to come together and see that the benefits of the cash rich IPL are not just in the bank balances, but also in the game being played in the right spirit by players who understand each other better playing together in the IPL.