Lawrence Booth and Sriram Veera on the Indian Premier League April 28, 2008

Indian Foreign Legion?

One of the many familiar grouses about the county game is the way in which English players can generally rely on an overseas team-mate to dig them out of yet another hole

One of the many familiar grouses about the county game is the way in which English players can generally rely on an overseas team-mate to dig them out of yet another hole. The phenomenon is exaggerated, as most grouses about the county game are, but a glance at the daily scorecards in the English broadsheets will tell you that it isn’t exaggerated by much. After 14 matches of the IPL, I wonder if the malaise is spreading.

A few basic facts for you. There have been four centuries so far, of which three have been made by Australians and one by a New Zealander. Of the 16 fifties, only seven have been scored by Indians, and just one – step forward Delhi’s Shikar Dhawan – by a batsman who has never played in one form or another for his country.

At first sight the bowling figures appear a little more favourable to the locals. Four of the six players to have claimed five or more wickets are Indian (Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh and RP Singh), but three of them have played four matches – half the franchises have still only played three – and one may not play again, depending on the outcome of today’s hearing in Delhi.

More relevant, perhaps, is the fact that of the 10 most economical bowlers (and I’m imposing a minimum requirement of 10 overs here), only three are Indian: Zaheer Khan (6.58 runs per over), Irfan Pathan (7.06), and RP Singh (7.21). The rest are either Australian or Sri Lankan: Glenn McGrath (6.00), Brett Lee (7.00), Muttiah Muralitharan (7.08), Farveez Maharoof (7.09), Chaminda Vaas (7.30), Shane Warne (7.50) and Shane Watson (7.62). Claims from afar that the IPL is simply a domestic Indian league do not hold water.

Should Indians be concerned? After all, the whole point of insisting on the inclusion in each franchise squad of four local Under-23 players was surely to pre-empt criticism that the IPL existed only for the benefit of the businessmen. But young men have time to learn, and Shane Warne’s impact at the Rajasthan Royals (a revolution within a revolution) is one of the most heartening aspects of the competition so far.

What must be more worrying for Indians is the relative failure of their established stars to make an impact. That list of 16 half-centurions includes only two franchise captains (Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh). Rahul Dravid was out first ball on Saturday and generally looks ill at ease with the demands placed on his batting by Twenty20, and VVS Laxman has done little so far except cling on to Adam Gilchrist’s coat-tails in Mumbai last night. Sourav Ganguly is yet to pass 14 and poor old Sachin hasn’t even made it onto the field. Warne, the only non-Indian captain before Shaun Pollock became Mumbai’s third-choice leader, has been comfortably the pick of the bunch.

If I can speak as another non-Indian for a moment, I don’t actually think this foreign legion is a bad thing. Because of the lack of interest here in domestic cricket, Indian fans have spent years shouting for no one else but their national side, which is fair enough. Now they are not only having to readjust to the franchises, but to the overseas contingent within them. The IPL might not merely be forcing the players to change their perspective.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Daily Mail. His fourth book, What Are The Butchers For? And Other Splendid Cricket Quotations, is published in October 2009 by A&C Black

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