With star players dropping out or on the treatment tables, it is small wonder that some are referring to the IPL as the Injured Premier League.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Lokesh Rahul, both of whom had starring roles to play in India’s 17-Test sequence dating back to July 2016, have been ruled out for the entire season, with Murali Vijay also joining them on the sidelines.
Ravindra Jadeja and Umesh Yadav have been rested for their sides’ opening games, and it is still uncertain whether Virat Kohli will play before the fourth week of April.
Of the international stars, Mitchell Starc had decided to withdraw even before he limped out of the India tour, while Quinton de Kock will miss the Delhi Daredevils’ campaign with a finger injury. JP Duminy, his fellow South African, had already announced his unavailability, citing personal reasons.
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AB de Villiers will not play Royal Challengers Bangalore’s opening game, and it remains to be seen what advice players receive from their home boards regarding workloads with the Champion Trophy slated to start in England on June 1.
But for all the scent of liniment, there is no mistaking the sense of anticipation as the league ventures into its fork-in-the-road 10th season.
Back in 2008, when Lalit Modi launched it with much fanfare and a blinding laser display, it was very much a step into the unknown. In the near-decade since, it has transformed the game in much the same way that Kerry Packer’s millions wrenched cricket into the professional era in the 1970s.
The controversies and scandals — Modi’s dismissal at the 2010 final, the spot-fixing incidents of 2013, and Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals being banned for two years — have been plentiful. But the IPL has also been a field of dreams, and not just for previously unheralded Indian players.
Mohammed Nabi and Rashid Khan of Afghanistan will fly the flag proudly for the associate nations, as will Chirag Suri of the UAE. Others such as Thangarasu Natarajan, who went for 10 times his base price at the auction despite next to no experience at the highest level, will be scrutinised heavily by the big-data analysts that are now an integral part of the travelling circus.
Year 10 is also a good time to take stock.
In the build up, there has been an unseemly tug of war between administrators loathe to give up their privileges of old and the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators tasked with charting a new path for the Indian cricket board. The impasse has meant that we will have to wait to see if Sony manage to hang on to the broadcast rights, or if they will be trumped by Star, who seem intent on a monopoly of the cricket shown on Indian TV screens.
For the franchises, it is the time to assess whether the millions spent back in 2008 were worth it.
Some, like Kolkata Knight Riders — backed by Brand Shah Rukh Khan — and Mumbai Indians — with limitless Ambani funds behind them — are commercially viable. Others, like Kings XI Punjab, have been trying to sell up for years. Gujarat Lions and Rise Pune Supergiant (no longer the plural Supergiants) entered the league in 2016, and unlikely to be around in 2018 unless the league expands to a bloated 10-team format.
And after the animosity of February and March, when India and Australia fought out the most thrilling Test series seen on these shores since 2001, it will be fascinating to watch how the crowds respond to Steve Smith (Pune), Glenn Maxwell (Punjab) and David Warner (Hyderabad) leading out their teams.
The players, who spent the best part of six weeks snarling at each other, have already made placatory noises, with Smith and Ajinkya Rahane sharing the stage at a Pune event a couple of days ago.
More than anything else, it is that big-banyan shadow the IPL casts over the game and its players that has made it unique.
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