Cricket astronauts under pressure

The Indian Premier League (IPL) is a tournament that cricket lovers are eagerly looking forward to. Although the Caribbean Premier League is already on in the West Indies, the cricket world has its eyes on the superlative cricket property of the Indian cricket board (BCCI). Dream11 (Sporta Technologies Pvt.Ltd), a fantasy sports platform that has been one of the outstanding recent success stories, quite understandably outbid the others to become the title sponsor after the exit of Vivo. The company was already a part of India’s cricket story as one of the sponsors of the BCCI and also had played a major part in 2019 IPL.
India’s iconic cricket captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, as well as Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ajinkya Rahane and Rishab Pant, are among Dream11’s brand ambassadors. Having a battery of such an elite cricket line-up, it was only prudent for them to wear the IPL crown. The BCCI may not have got the full value of the IPL title sponsorship that they would have liked to in financial terms, but given the uncertainty that everyone is facing currently due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the BCCI must be happy to have got a substantial winning bid.
Unfortunately, the first casualty that the IPL faced, even before the tournament began, was when 13 members of the Chennai Super Kings tested positive for coronavirus. Although, they have been quarantined for two weeks, the thought of the virus striking even after the members had tested negative before leaving India has put all the other cricketers under pressure.
‘Cricket Astronauts’, as one can refer to them, with the protected PPE suits and face masks etc must be mentally very worrying. They need to get cricket started at one end for their own benefit, but to do so, they also require to take a substantial risk to avoid the dreaded virus.
It is a situation that people defending their nations internally and externally are trained for, and are mentally prepared to handle, but not the cricketers playing for passion and fun. One has to admire the fact that most of the players and the support staff have not backed out of what could have been a good reason to do so. It is collective efforts like these that will keep the game flourishing in the future as well. One hopes and prays that all goes as planned and that every person associated with the IPL keeps himself vigilant and disciplined to ensure that the virus remains contained.
The franchises are finding innovative ways of keeping their loyal supporters abreast with videos of their teams’ activities and practice on the field. One was amused to see that the conservative way of batting in the nets of getting a feel of the wicket and conditions has given way to batsmen striking the ball from the very first delivery. One has seen this before and it always bewilders one as to whether a batsman out in the middle will play in such a rash manner from the first ball he faces.
The T20 format needs the subtle placement and wrist play as much as the big hitting. Somehow, this elementary thought gets blinded by the heroic appreciation of a mighty six. Cricket may have been shortened to suit the palate of today’s impatient viewers, but the success stories are of batsmen who have the skill and the art to find the correct placement in their defence and stroke-play. In the preceding four years, the batsmen who headed the run charts were Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and David Warner, who achieved it twice. This clearly shows that skill and intelligence is far better bet than sheer brawn, even in the shorter format of the game.
The two areas of cricket that makes T20 interesting are bowling and fielding. The conditions are so much in favor of batsmen that bowlers have to continuously innovate. They need to out-think the batsman with their direction and restrictive field placements. At times, one feels sorry for a helpless bowler, but when they do bamboozle the batsman, there is an element of admiration for them. Similarly, the out-fielding has improved by leaps and bounds. This is solely because the fitness levels of the present cricketers, under continuous observation and dietary regime, are making them well turned-out athletes.
One of the most concerning things to read about is how some of the top present-day cricketers have developed anxiety and concern about their game. The five months of being away from the game due to Covid-19 pandemic apparently brought about an uncertainty that the cricketers had never faced before. One wonders as to how in the earlier days an Indian cricketer confronted the same issue as the gap between the end of one cricket season and the start of another was around five months. Some fortunate cricketers did get overseas club contracts to play, mainly over the weekend, whereas the monsoon cricket leagues would surface gradually at major cities as the rains subsided. This too was mostly played on Sundays. A cricketer, therefore, had to keep himself fit playing indoor games as their cricket kit was kept aside for the season to follow. A month or so of practice was all that one got before the start of the first-class domestic season, and with limited matches at stake one got into the groove very quickly.
Therefore, it was nice to learn that the three majestic stroke players in Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and AB de Villiers were happy with their initial outing. One never doubted it. But it would have put them at ease, if they had just spoken to some of the legends, who always seemed to continue with their stupendous form from where they left off the season before. Let us wish that the trio does so in a similar fashion. Cricket will then be a treat to watch!

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)

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