IPL franchises race to get a base
With just three weeks left for the IPL to begin in South Africa, the eight teams have begun a race against time to get their player combinations and practice bases in place.
Rajasthan Royals, the IPL champions, were the first off the blocks and have tied up with Cape Cobras and Western Province to use Newlands in Cape Town as their practice location. Kolkata Knight Riders are eyeing Bloemfontein, and Mumbai Indians are hoping to cash in on the Asian support base in Durban, which is hosting 16 IPL matches.
In fact, there was such a rush among the franchises to be based in prime locations like Durban and Pretoria, which also has a sizeable Asian fan base, that Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman, told a TV channel in South Africa: "The franchises are fighting with me to get a base to organise their camps and that is our priority."
Most of the teams have also confirmed that they will be holding preparatory camps in South Africa from the first week of April. Shaun Pollock, mentor to the Mumbai Indians, told Cricinfo the camp will begin on April 8 in Durban. But Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Daredevils are taking a different route. "We will have a 10-day camp starting March 31 or April 1 in Chennai," Rakesh Singh, the marketing head of India Cements, which owns Chennai Super Kings, said. "We are having a preparatory camp for Indian players in Delhi from April 1 and we will leave for South Africa on April 7," T A Sekhar, who heads the cricketing operations for Delhi Daredevils, said.
Franchise officials are looking through the tournament schedule that was officially released on Friday and also engaged in commercial meetings with the IPL in Mumbai and Delhi. Most of them are also approaching a final decision on how many players they can take to South Africa , 20-29 in many cases.
The franchises hope the event will be well worth the extra effort but they admitted that the absence of the home-and-away concept, which was such a success in India last time, might take some sheen off the contests.
"There is no option and we can't do much about it," Joy Bhattacharya, team director of Kolkata Knight Riders, said. "There is no concept of home-and-away games because the weather conditions don't permit it as in places like Port Elizabeth it gets colder during these months so that has to be factored in, too. And if given a choice, all eight teams would have liked to play at Durban and Cape Town (due to the strong Indian fan base)."
"It is an advantage to have a home base as you are playing seven matches on a particular surface and then you also have control over preparation (of the pitch)," Amrit Mathur, the chief operating officer of the Delhi franchise, said. "There is a certain merit in the home-and-away concept as there is identity of your team along with your supporters who will rally behind your team. Now it becomes uncertain, but every team is affected by the same factor."
There is also considerable interest in how many matches the England players, who are making their IPL debut, can squeeze in, considering that they will be available only till May 1, after which they leave for the home series against West Indies. For instance, if Bangalore Royal Challengers get Kevin Pietersen, their captain, to stay on till May 1, they will be able to squeeze in seven matches for their star catch. Andrew Flintoff, the other England star, will get to play six matches for Chennai, while Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah play five games for Delhi.
"Kevin is going to be crucial, especially his attitude on the field and that is why he was made the captain," Ray Jennings, Bangalore's new coach, said. The franchise has announced that Jacques Kallis would take over from Pietersen, but Jennings said that the final call will be taken later. "Kallis is one of the options to take over but we'll have to see how he stands up in the first six games," he said.
The other significant decision that confronts the franchises is how many players they will fly across to South Africa, because they have been informed by the IPL that the league would bear the ticket costs of only a specific number of players - the number is still being finalised.
"We have been given the assurance from the IPL that they will take care of the incremental costs; this was told to the franchise owners when the decision to stage the event was finalised," Chennai's Singh said. "Suppose I spent X amount of money last year and the expenses are X + Y this year, Y is what IPL has told us they will take care of. The understanding is the IPL will pay for the return ticket for certain number of players."
Jennings has asked the Bangalore franchise to send 20-25 players for his team training camp that starts on April 5. "We are taking almost 24 to 25 players to the camp," Kolkata's Bhattacharya said. "We will arrive initially with 11-12 players and then four players will join us in two subsequent batches and later on some of the guys on international duty will join us eventually. Before the tournament begins we may cut it down to 20, not including the support staff."
Chennai's Singh said MS Dhoni, the team's captain, and Stephen Fleming, the coach, will decide on a final number. "We have announced 29 players and if they want all of them we have no issues with that," he said. Mumbai Indians have already sent a bunch of their Indian domestic players to South Africa to train under Pollock in Durban.
"We intend to take 22 players," Delhi's Sekhar said. "In any case there will be seven Indians and four foreigners. There will six other foreigners as back-up so you need that for the Indians also."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo. With inputs from Ajay Shankar