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There was never a question of ‘would they’ or ‘wouldn’t they’. Mumbai Indians just had to go pass the league stage. Right from the outset, they looked a unit with a mission. Those daunting 20 points on the rank table, tell a story that perhaps unfolded a few months ago. No, I am not hinting at the season’s biggest buy Kieron Pollard. Neither am I talking about the obviously in-form Sachin Tendulkar. I am talking about the inherent smart thinking that has assured them, if nothing bigger, a place in the semi-finals.
Interestingly, the four teams that found themselves languishing at the bottom of the chart were heard saying that they didn’t play good cricket at crucial junctures which cost them a place in the final 4. But the point isn’t just that.
The IPL, in its third season, has managed to see different teams gaining and losing ground every year. So, is it only about those few crucial overs that separate a win from a loss? Well, yes and no. The fact is that most teams did precious little in the last three seasons to strengthen their sides. One might argue that they bought good players in the auctions, and that they even scouted for talent from the domestic circuit. But is that enough? Isn’t that the easiest route to find players?
Well, that is perhaps the point most teams missed and Mumbai picked. While Twenty20 may seem to have inherent randomness, the preparation is rather systematic. Right from organising camps to holding practice matches, this outfit has been at the job right from the word go. And all this well in advance.
It is not smart to shut shop once the IPL gets over. But that is exactly what most franchises have been doing all this while.
Well, even now, nothing would happen till as late as after the Champions league, when the fresh auctions happen. But, I daresay that it’ll be too late by then. For one the first-class season kicks off; all the good players will be busy playing for their respective states. Yes, the scouting can be carried out but there’s very little time left to make the players IPL-ready. A player might be good for his state team in different formats but will he be a good player in the IPL is anybody’s guess.
The biggest problem these IPL teams face is the lack of time. The team gets together only a few days prior to the tournament which is clearly not enough. But unfortunately that is not going to change in the years to come. So, what can be done to minimise that handicap? While International cricketers won’t be available, the local talent definitely is.
The trick is to have a structure in place which is operational throughout the year. The beginning would be to find young players who have the ability to hit the long ball or bowl yorkers and slower ones with perfection. They may not be good first class cricketers but a good Twenty20 cricketer doesn’t need to be one. Twenty20 requires a different skill-set and if you tick a few boxes, the rest can be worked upon. And then that academy should put these kids through a tough regimen of physical fitness and specific skills training to make them IPL ready when it comes. A Wasim Akram would only be effective if he gets both quality and quantity time with the bowlers, for I didn’t see much of a difference in KKR’s bowling this season.
We have seen that lesser known players like T Suman and Kedar Jadhav can make an impact, hence there is no harm in investing in them. In any case, they come a lot cheaper than the rest. It’s imperative that the IPL teams don’t see this as a 45-days tournament but a year-long activity, something that the Mumbai Indians have incorporated well in their plan.
It’s about time that franchisees go beyond the first class and under-19 circuits to recruit players. Yes, those players might need more nurturing but I’m pretty sure that it’ll be worth the effort.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.