India’s exit from the semifinals of yet another T20 World Cup has once again brought to the fore the issue of allowing Indian players to play in foreign T20 leagues.
While India boasts some of the finest batsmen and bowlers in the shortest format of the game, these players often fall short during the big games when their performance is most critical to the team’s fortunes.
As of now, India remains the only country that does not allow its players to play abroad for a variety of reasons. But with successive failures of Team India on foreign tracks, especially in the T20 format, it might be time for the BCCI to take a relook at the issue.
The Indian T20 League Factor
Since its inception, the Indian T20 League has allowed both experienced and young players across India to showcase their exceptional talents, and more importantly, get compensated fairly for their talents. Legions of youngsters have made their way from the Indian T20 League to the Indian squad, with the tournament acting as a ready pipeline for Team India in the shortest format of the game.
But the popularity of the league comes with consequences. The BCCI undeniably wants to make the league bigger and longer, with the goal of turning it into the mainstay of cricketers in the summer months.
This is causing fatigue and burnout among players with excessive workloads especially among seniors. Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and Jasprit Bumrah are frequently forced to opt out of foreign tours to manage their schedule effectively.
An unintended side-effect of this phenomenon is also that the teams that India sends abroad are filled with talented but inexperienced youngsters, who succumb to the tracks they are unacquainted with. Allowing these youngsters to play in foreign T20 leagues would solve this problem while keeping India’s core players available for national duties.
England and Pakistan Show the Way
Perhaps no two countries have been more proactive in letting their players play abroad than England and Pakistan.
While the case of West Indies, where most of the explosive T20 talent stems from is unique due to the mismanagement by the board, both England and Pakistan have succeeded in turning the experience of players abroad to their advantage in ICC tournaments.
The likes of Jos Buttler, Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers have become giants of the game mainly due to their experience all over the world.
Even India is not new to this concept since the BCCI constantly encourages its players to play first-class cricket in England and Australia to nullify the advantage of its opponents in Test cricket.
The likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravichandran Ashwin have honed their skills on foreign tracks before aiding India to memorable victories in the last few years, with Team India enjoying an unprecedented chapter in its history.
Given the number of tours that India is scheduled to play over the next few years, it wouldn’t be the wildest idea to forge a completely different team for the T20 format that is separate from the other two teams. India could then use this team just for the T20Is and allow players to participate in foreign leagues without worrying about their availability for Tests and ODIs.
Impact on Foreign Leagues
Almost all nations that conduct a domestic T20 league are keen to include Indian players in their tournaments. The inclusion of just a few Indian players would drastically drum up the viewership numbers from the subcontinent, allowing these leagues to grow on the back of sponsorship and broadcast revenue.
But this also happens to be the reason the BCCI is unwilling to let its players participate abroad. To cement its position as the world’s premier cricket competition, the BCCI has essentially locked in a huge talent pool all to itself – a practice that wouldn’t have been possible if the ICC was more democratic.
Domestic vs International Cricket
Ultimately, the debate is also about the future direction of the game. Will cricket go football’s way and become centred around domestic leagues and clubs, or will it continue to follow tradition and remain an international sport?
West Indies as a team have collapsed at the international level despite boasting of some of the finest talents in T20s – with the players preferring the much more lucrative contracts of the leagues rather than playing for their country.
While India’s top talent is paid very handsomely for their effort, the situation down the line is not so rosy. Players in the Ranji Trophy and other domestic tournaments barely scrape by with their limited salaries and would love an opportunity to earn elsewhere by showcasing their talents.
India’s coach Rahul Dravid has recently voiced his views on the issue to the media, emphasising that senior players would not play in India’s domestic tournaments. If allowed to play abroad, it might lead to the death of domestic cricket in the country.
On the contrary, it might be India’s domestic players who will be more enthusiastic to play abroad, as the senior players are already content with the amount of cricket they play and the money they earn.
In the end, a calibrated approach to allow India’s players to play in foreign T20 leagues would do well for the national side rather than holding them hostage with outdated rules.
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