Team India Franchises on a Winning Spree: Is This For Real?

It has to be termed as a good positive sign in view of the ICC World Cup T20 coming up later this year and the ODI ICC World Cup coming next year that Team India, of late, has been winning in the shorter formats consistently. After Team India-Bumrah franchise lost the leftover 5th Test against England the various franchises have been blooming in the following matches in the shorter formats. Before the 5th Test Team India-Pandya franchise had triumphed over Ireland quite easily; then Team India-Rohit franchise won both the T20I Series and the ODI Series against England with the same margin of 2-1; next, Team India-Dhawan franchise swept the 3-match ODI Series against the competitive and spirited West Indies on the latter’s turf 3-0; and at the moment Team India-Rohit franchise has taken a lead of 1-0 in the 3-match T20I Series against the West Indies routing the hosts in the first T20I match. Before this winning spree Team India-Pant franchise managed to draw the ODI Series against South Africa back home. The problem here is as to why exactly we’re using the word ‘franchise’ for the true-blue national team. This, of course, can be interpreted as ‘in the glorious spirit of the IPL franchises’, because after that mind-blowing deal the IPL had accomplished in terms of revenues Indian cricket as well as international cricket are bound to undergo a paradigm shift from ‘proud national cricket’ to ‘businessmen’s franchise cricket’.


We’re not saying this out of any outraged hurts or feelings, we’re saying this based on hard facts. The surprise announcement of retirement from ODI cricket by England Test captain Ben Stokes immediately after the hosts lost the ODI Series 2-1 to India brought the ‘burnout of players’ syndrome into deep focus. This syndrome has quite a lot of validity behind it. After the Pandemic-induced break for well over a year the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided to rush through as many pending tournaments/bilateral series as possible and the cricketers started complaining of continuous ‘bio bubble’ fatigue which also has a lot of humanitarian validity. Besides, some exceptionally capable cricketers play cricket in all formats for their respective national teams and therefore they are the worst hit in this ‘burnout’ syndrome.


As far as Indian cricket is concerned the supposedly prompt counter to the ‘burnout’ issue had been in operation well before the Pandemic; naturally because the IPL was raging here since times immemorial. The exceptional players or the superstars who must figure in all formats of the game plus obviously the IPL were being ‘rested’ or ‘put in the unfit or injury list’ quite regularly. However, there is a glorious exception to rule here: superstar players must not be ‘rested’ at any cost for the two months when the IPL franchises chalk out the encounters. This is now being further accentuated by the fact that the IPL, as the second-highest earning sports tournament of the world, is going to last for around two and half months from next year and the formation-in-line of various other T20 Leagues in many countries across the globe including South Africa, Australia, UAE and others the replacement of ‘national cricket’ by ‘franchise cricket’ has to become immensely imminent.


Therefore, the ‘burnout factor’, accentuated by the mushrooming T20 Leagues, has become a vexed international phenomenon. Former India coach Ravi Shastri and famed ex-cricketer of Pakistan Wasim Akram have in fact bluntly asked the ICC to cut down drastically on the bilateral fixtures, and if possible, to eradicate the ODI feature from international cricket schedule altogether. While they are being very righteous about the enveloping ‘burnout crisis’ they miss the basic point that the ODI Cricket World Cup still commands more interest than any other T20 or other tournaments. They also justify that this is absolutely necessary to preserve Tests Cricket, supposedly the original and the traditional format of the game. Unfortunately, cricket mandarins of this kind would be the last to be genuinely concerned about the future of Test Cricket.


Coming back to Indian cricket, we’ve already seen that the emergence of the Team India franchises cannot be prevented for practical reasons. Former India captain and the horribly cum consistently out-of-form Virat Kohli has been getting the much needed ‘rest’ very frequently along with the most delicate superstars like Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammad Shami and others. Rohit Sharma, the newly appointed regular captain in all formats, has been exemplary as far as the ‘rested’ or ‘injured’ factors are concerned, and as a result of that various stand-in captains have been emerging in Indian cricket, very regularly too. And therefore, the inevitable ‘franchise’ phenomenon. Shikhar Dhawan was left in the wilderness for a long time without any suitable justification, but had to be brought in now for the ‘franchise’ issue.


Now, the Indian franchises are winning the matches cum series, but not India as such. ‘Bench strength’ and ‘experiments’ are the buzzwords now. No issues, it’s always good to have multiple choices. Some players like Deepak Hooda, Samson and many other youngsters are playing exceptionally well. But the problem is about the final eleven that was going to figure in the forthcoming World Cups. The ICC has been judiciously providing many T20 bilateral series to enable the national teams prepare well. But, when the key players are ‘rested’ from these preparatory matches and they come back to oust the promising and practicing youngsters from the playing eleven in the World Cups what would happen!


For example if KL Rahul, the regular stand-in captain in the shorter formats, comes back from a long injury break whom he is going to replace? Further, if Virat Kohli is given a permanent rest it would augur well for the final eleven in World Cups, because if he comes back too without any match practice he would oust another cog of the winning combinations and his performance in the eliminating matches would also be highly unpredictable. Why veteran Dinesh Karthik is being played in the final T20 eleven, coming to bat after Jadeja or Axar Patel, is another pertinent question. Or does it matter anyway how the India final eleven perform in the international tournaments? Other countries are joining in the chorus too for sparing their ‘national’ players to play and earn big money in the franchise leagues!


If only the T20 Leagues are given preference over the ICC fixtures we’ll always be the first to protest. National and International cricket cannot be sacrificed for the money-spinning entertainment shows like the T20 Leagues. But it’s going to be a battle where the genuine cricket lovers are going to be the most likely losers. This is definitely unfortunate, but what can we do when confronted with the ‘popularity’ and the ‘money’ associated with the short-cut cricket! Our hopes in the new coach Rahul Dravid, the Wall in Indian glorious Test cricket, have been a huge disappointment thus far, sadly.


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