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A quick look at the playing XIs of quite a few of the non-IPL teams in the Champions League is enough to tell the story in no uncertain terms - they are the poorer cousins of their IPL counterparts. Let's say they are as good as a Bengal or a Baroda, but are as run down as any state team would be, when playing an international outfit. The IPL teams swanking big names and decades of experience are of course better bets.
Logically then, the local teams sans star power should not be a patch on the three Indian teams. Yet not only have they put up a good fight, but have outperformed the IPL teams - none of the Indian teams qualified for the knock-outs in the first edition of the tournament. So what is it that is allowing the lesser teams to hold sway? More importantly, a question begs to be asked -- how good are our IPL teams after all?
In my humble opinion, it isn't the standard but the sheer competitiveness that seals the deal in favour of the IPL. Most teams in the IPL are equally balanced or imbalanced and share similar strengths and handicaps. Teams have the luxury of being able to start slowly, since the league is a lengthy event. So it's okay to start working as a unit a couple of weeks into the tournament.
But there are no such luxuries in the Champions League. It's mandatory to hit the ground running or else you will be forced to play catch up. Since the IPL teams don't play together year round, they find it tough to work as a team right from the beginning. Finding out out what makes certain players tick and how they will perform in certain situations consumes vital time. Of course, the local teams enjoy an edge on this account as the line-up works as a cohesive unit round the year.
Unfortunately, IPL teams have mostly banked on reputations and not on current form to bail them out of tough situations, while the other first-class teams have had in-form players to assume the responsibility.
Another major factor that has had a huge impact on the overall standing of the non-IPL teams is knowledge of the opposition. Since the IPL is a hugely watched worldwide spectacle, its players have been exposed to analysis. The other participating teams escape such scrutiny. For example T&T took everyone by surprise with a brand of West Indian cricket which was almost forgotten or absolutely new to others.
While non-IPL teams can plan and prepare in advance and hence know what to expect from the IPL teams, our teams need to be more fluid in their approach. The role of a coach becomes remarkably insignificant because it's the captain who must think on his feet, analyse the opposition on the ground itself and react appropriately. He must back his instincts a great deal too.
The only thing that might bring parity in this year's edition is its timing. Most teams are coming out of an off-season and might be equally rusty as our IPL teams. In spite of the IPL teams claiming to have more match-winners than the rest, it's imperative to play as a single unit. The seasoned players are expected to adapt to tough South African conditions more easily than most first-class cricketers from around the world, but it is always a team that wins a match.
© 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.