IPL to Blame for India's Demise

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IPL to Blame for India's Demise
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Perennial underachievers England were finally victorious in an International Cricket Council competition, defeating the old enemy in Sunday's final without too much difficulty.

In seeking explanations for their remarkable transformation, doubters might cite the non-English spine that provides a more spirited edge.

However, answers are better found in a settled side, who at last have an idea of expectations at different stages of the match, and most importantly, players who fit into roles and execute specific plans.

With only five of the squad participants in the Indian Premier League (IPL) it had been argued that England would lack the experience of high-profile Twenty20 competition. This, of course, ignores the fact that 20-overs cricket was developed first in England and that most of the side play an excess of it in the domestic season.

Still, with the World Twenty20 coming so shortly after the completion of the third IPL season, any analysis of team or player warrants comparison of the two tournaments with arguably the highest profiles in international cricket.

For no team is this more apt than India. In some ways it shouldn't be too surprising that India didn't progress in the Caribbean. The last time they were there for the 2007 World Cup they didn't even make the Super Eights.

They have also failed to proceed to the semi-finals in the last three editions of the Champions Trophy and didn't win a single contest in the second stage of the World Twenty20 held last year in England.

Commentators have offered their reasons for the team's poor showing. In wholly cricketing terms the fielding lacked the agility and bite of their opponents in a format in which each ball is a potential momentum-shifter.

MS Dhoni, as captain, made some questionable decisions, the new ball bowlers proved unproductive and the batters appeared incapable against the short-pitched delivery.

These technical points could be levelled against other sides who failed to perform to their potential, notably South Africa. However, any discussion about an Indian side inevitably confronts the country vs club dilemma that has dogged rugby and football in recent years.

The Indian players have just completed a compact IPL season that may have proved tiring but also exposed the frailties of the previously lesser known.

The IPL allows overseas team-mates a reconnaissance role. There are few places to hide for a player with a technical glitch.

But the lacklustre performances suggest more than just an inability to fine-tune one's technique. India's coach Gary Kirsten has questioned some of his players' commitment, complaining that even he—a 42-year-old—was fitter than some of them.

Some might have thought that six-week season ideal preparation for an international tournament. However, it is emerging that the IPL involves much more than a four-hour cricket contest.

Players have become celebrities and are expected to perform a role that involves mixing with selected guests following their matches. Reports have suggested pressures to attend parties that go on into the early hours of the morning, followed by lengthy travel excursions and another game.

The IPL is to be extended by two teams next year and the number of matches will increase from 60 to 94.

MS Dhoni also captained Chennai to IPL success. He has complained that India's spinners bowled flat and their seamers kept bowling the same pace.

He concedes that his side didn't play to its potential, but finds nothing wrong in either the IPL or the scheduling.

The inability, though, to perfect the finer subtleties demanded in the shorter form of the sport suggest a lack of time for preparation. Why weren't these same players using the IPL to hone their skills?

IPL vice-chairman Niranjan Shah predictably negates any responsibility for the debacle in the West Indies, saying that "players must not offer excuses for their pathetic performance."

Ultimately, though, any comparison between the World Twenty20 and the IPL will question priorities. The Indian domestic tournament provides huge incomes, lavish lifestyles, and iconic status. We should not be surprised if this becomes some players' main concern.

However, as the West Indian legend Clive Lloyd noted "while the IPL is an exhibition, the World Cup is the true examination."

Cricket followers tend to have different priorities to commercial concerns and could turn on those who fail to take their responsibilities seriously.

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