I guess 2018 will be the year when the Indian Premier League became truly Indian. A simple evidence of this is the orange cap presented to the leading run scorer. For the first time, it is mostly Indian players. Glance through the bowlers’ list, and that will also show more Indians than foreigners.
This could be because some terrific overseas players like David Warner, Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc of Australia, and Kagiso Rabada of South Africa are missing in this edition of the IPL.
Young Indian players—not the established Indian internationals, but fringe Indian players—have come into their own and taken centre stage in the IPL. They genuinely believe now that the IPL is their platform, and there is no longer any inhibition in them being on a world stage, with big global stars around them.
In this IPL, Rishabh Pant has overshadowed AB de Villiers.
Like Pant, Shreyas Iyer of Delhi Daredevils and Suryakumar Yadav of Mumbai Indians are playing well. Even an 18-year-old Prithvi Shaw of Mumbai, who got break a little late for Delhi Daredevils, is batting like he would in his backyard. In one of his first matches, he was going after Mitchell Johnson (still quite a fearsome bowler) as if Johnson were a rookie.
There is a proper cricketing reason why it has not been a great IPL for the foreign players. An interesting change is happening in world cricket. Players, even the good ones from a country, are struggling to make an impact in another country. You have players from England playing well in England and getting decimated by the same opposition away from England. South Africa beat India recently in South Africa, but when they come to India, India bosses them around. Also, there aren’t any truly great teams around like we had in the earlier days. Teams that were winners in all conditions, like the West Indians and the Australians. That’s because there aren’t enough players in today’s teams who excel in all conditions.
Being versatile is being great. Like a Smith or a Virat Kohli or a Kane Williamson, but their number is very small.
Today you have a lot of good players, but the exceptional ones are rare. I am not talking about the truly great players; their number has always been very small through the generations. I am talking about world-class players, who are just a notch under great players, and are the spine of any great team.
To be versatile is not about fitness, strength or power. These qualities are found aplenty in players of today. But, to be effective in varying conditions, you need the subtleties—subtle adjustments of your game and your instincts. Throw in a bit of street smartness—to behave differently in different landscapes. This is more about the mind than the body.
This is also the reason why teams in this IPL have lost their way after a great start in the first six overs. The first six overs is about power hitting, the middle phase, well, it is about the cricketing ‘smarts’.
It is great to see young Indian players show this quality, but will they be versatile? That, the IPL can’t show us.
Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator.