The Indian Premier League is an easy competition to feel ambivalent towards. A key player in the T20 revolution since its inception in 2008, it has played its part in helping to resuscitate the sport. Yet as a tournament itself, it can irritate. On the superficial side, audiences have had to endure nonsense such as ‘Yes Bank Maximums’ and ‘Citi Moments of Success’, gimmicks trotted out by puppeteer commentators, the worst of whom has to be the superfluous Danny Morrison.
Gushing is the default mode for all, perhaps out of fear more than choice. Harsha Bhogle — hardly known for rallying against the establishment — has had his IPL commentary contract cancelled in April of this year, with mild criticism the likely instigator. Of course, there has been little explanation as to why the decision was taken. Transparency isn’t the BBCI’s default mode.
The BBCI — alongside the English and Australian Cricket boards — have shown themselves to be unstintingly greedy in recent years, and that air of superiority and untouchability seems to have rubbed off on the competition itself, with both the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals both suspended ahead of this year’s edition due to match fixing. The show goes on.
Since the start of 2008, the show has gone on almost entirely devoid of English talent. For the rest of the world, that is an understandable irrelevance. For English Cricket fans, it jars a bit. Match fixing is a far greater issue, but part of the jealousy stems from seeing the likes of Chris Gayle and AB De Villiers strut their stuff, while as a nation we have almost uniformly steered clear.
Things, thankfully, are starting to change. The IPL still overlaps with the start of the English summer, thus meaning it is not viable for all our stars to take part — namely Joe Root — but there has been a definite change in tack. Eoin Morgan and in particular Kevin Pietersen were previously treated as petty criminals for their yearning for the bright lights instead of a four-day game at Chester Le-Street in April. Not anymore.
Andrew Strauss, a man who was at ruinous odds with Pietersen in the latter stages of his own career, has played a crucial role. The Director of Cricket has placed a lot of emphasis on white ball cricket since his induction, and the run to the final in the World T20 was justification for his approach. Encouraging county players to venture further afield will only help the rapid progression.
Alex Hales had a short spell with the Mumbai Indians at the back end of last season, while David Willey and Adil Rashid starred in the Big Bash in the lead up to this year’s WT20. James Vince, Sam Billings and Ravi Bopara turned out in the inaugural Pakistan Super League. This time round in India, Jos Buttler, Sam Billings and Chris Jordan have featured for Mumbai, the Delhi Daredevils and Royal Challengers Bangalore respectively.
Things haven’t exactly gone perfectly. Buttler has flitted in an out of form, largely reduced to cameos. Billings has played five games. Jordan only joined up with RCB as a replacement, and it took him until his fourth game — where he took 4-11 against Gujarat Lions — to rediscover new-found ability to bowl at the death. Now he has, he will find himself lining up in the final.
These England players aren’t novices — they are now part of one of the best limited overs squads in the world — but thrown into a situation like this it almost feels as if they are. Every standout performance from one of them feels like a validation: Our boys belong with the best. Adoration and worldwide recognition may follow.
On top of that, their participation will hopefully pile the pressure on ECB and the Counties for a solution to our own domestic T20 league, which currently survives rather than thrives. If the new breed can add their voices to the likes of Pietersen and Morgan, then something is likely to give.
England’s solo T20 crown came in 2010, where the squad — ably led by Paul Collingwood — rode the crest of a Pietersen-inspired wave. Since then, the talent has been bubbling under the surface in the County game. However, it is 2016 that may well be remembered as the year we cracked it for good. The revolution must continue.