Franchises fear Chennai no longer level playing field
The IPL governing council's decision to exclude Sri Lankan players from matches in Chennai has been met with some disappointment and concern by the other franchises. They are disappointed at being excluded from the decision-making process, and that the decision taken did not follow precedent. In addition, they are concerned over the possible consequence - that Chennai Super Kings may have an added advantage in their home games.
While Super Kings' Sri Lankan players are not crucial to their plans, several of their compatriots are vital members of their respective teams. Those teams will not be fielding their first XI when playing in Chennai - both in the league stage and in the knockout stage, in which two matches are scheduled to be staged in Chennai.
Officials of the eight other franchises were not willing to go on record and said they were unlikely to raise this formally within the IPL. However, they wonder why the precedent set in 2010 - when the matches were shifted out of Bangalore after the twin bomb blasts, and not a single game was held in Hyderabad because of the Telengana agitation - was not followed this time.
"Why did the IPL not call for a meeting with the franchises? They could have had a consensus by asking all the franchises, which they did during the Telengana crisis," one franchise official said. "It is a similar situation now, just as when Deccan Chargers games were moved out of Hyderabad due to the Telengana debate."
The Hyderabad situation was precipitated by a movement, that turned violent, in Andhra Pradesh for a separate Telengana state, the IPL initially decided to move all seven home games of Deccan Chargers, the then local franchise, out of the state. Eventually, the Chargers played two matches in Cuttack, a catchment area, two in Mumbai, and three in Nagpur.
Two months later, there were two low-intensity bomb blasts outside the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, minutes before a league match between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians. The match went ahead after officials guaranteed safety, but the IPL moved the semi-finals out of Bangalore to Mumbai.
Citing those two incidents, the franchises are now asking why the IPL could not move the home games of Chennai Super Kings elsewhere. "To me the rule is, if you can't manage a team inside your state then move the game (outside)," a team official said.
However, IPL franchises don't always have a say in decision-making and a BCCI official contacted by ESPNcricinfo echoed that line. "It is not mandatory for the IPL authorities to consult the franchises," he said on condition of anonymity. "The franchises are taken into confidence more or less on every issue [but] we cannot speak in public about a particular issue."
The IPL's latest decision leaves Chennai Super Kings without two players - Nuwan Kulasekara and Akhila Dhananjaya - who, it can reasonably be said, would not have been regular starters. Kulasekara was bought by Super Kings in 2011 and has featured in six matches - including one match last season. Dhananjaya, 19, was bought at the player auction in February and was always likely to be on the bench given the team's strong overseas contingent - including Albie Morkel and Francois du Plessis (both South Africa), Dwayne Bravo (West Indies) and fast bowlers Ben Hilfenhaus and Dirk Nannes (both Australia).
In contrast, Sri Lankan players feature prominently on several of the other teams. Mahela Jayawardene captains Delhi Daredevils and is their key batsman; Kumar Sangakkara will captain Sunrisers Hyderabad and also keep wicket; Lasith Malinga is the strike bowler for Mumbai Indians; Angelo Matthews is the go-to allrounder for Pune Warriors; Tillakaratne Dilshan plays a triple role, as batsman, bowler, and a top fielder for Royal Challengers, and Muttiah Muralitharan is their lead spinner. All these teams will have to play Super Kings in Chennai without their first XI, while the home franchise could notionally field their strongest side.
Sri Lankan players are a significant part of franchises' planning because of their familiarity with conditions and their availability through the tournament. This year, too, various franchises recruited a few Lankan players to suit specific game-plans. Kolkata Knight Riders' sole buy at the auction was Sachithra Senanayake, a $625,000 alternative to the West Indiaes spinner Sunil Narine. Pune Warriors India bid aggressively to bag Mathews and Ajantha Mendis, who, in the absence of Michael Clarke, are likely to play an important role in the team's strategies. Thisara Perera, who once played for Super Kings, was bought by the Sunrisers, while Rajasthan Royals purchased wicket-keeper batsman Kusal Perera.
Now those teams will have to play Super Kings, twice winners of the IPL and of the Champions League Twenty20, at Chepauk with a tweaked game-plan and without their best side.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo