The modern shape of T20 cricket around the world is a direct result of the precedent set by the BCCI with the Indian Premier League. Following India’s surprising, dramatic triumph at the World T20 in 2007, the format exploded in the country, and its popularity was channeled into the first IPL. The promise of the most exciting players around the world crossing country lines and playing together on the same teams hyped up the first tournament, and it was met with wild success.
Even as its successive editions have blended into each other in our memories, the narratives of the first IPL remain fresh in our minds. Who can forget the oft-imagined but never previously realized Sachin-Sanath partnership? Shane Warne’s inspired leadership? Or, most striking of all, McCullum’s blazing 158 in the very first match?
Following the first IPL, India was unmistakably the T20 capital of the world. However, we have failed to add to our one World Cup after its launch. The IPL led to the increased popularity and evolution of T20 leagues all over the world, from the Caribbean to Bangladesh to Australia.
The financial incentives of these leagues bred a new type of T20 superstar, one that traveled the world over the year, specializing in T20 cricket. These players, from McCullum to Andre Russell, have attracted demand because of their sheer match-winning abilities in the format, and have had the opportunity to refine these skills.
To protect and enhance the brand value of the IPL, the BCCI has not allowed Indian players to take part in foreign T20 leagues in the recent past. While this has kept players from leaving the Indian domestic circuit to pursue foreign fortunes, a problem that has afflicted domestic cricket in the rest of the world, it also means that our best T20 players are simply not playing the same amount of quality T20 as the rest of the world.
While India has been able to remain one of the world’s premier T20 teams, we have often been found lacking when it comes to sheer T20 explosiveness. This was highlighted in the semi-final of the 2016 World Cup, when India eased to 192 on a flat pitch only to see it gunned down by the West Indies’ band of T20 mercenaries.
The four foreign players in the IPL, which is the highest number of any T20 league, brings attention to the event, but also allows Indian cricket to paper over the cracks. Teams look for foreign players with raw hitting power and genuine pace, as evidenced by the recent auction. Much has been made of the inability of the Indian middle order to capitalize on starts in ODIs, and this problem is only exacerbated in T20s when the top-order cannot be expected to always conserve their wickets and every player needs the ability to go from ball one.
While it is important to protect the IPL, the BCCI’s first responsibility is toward the success of the Indian national team. T20 cricket is its own format, and to develop specialists of global standard, we have to give our players the opportunity to ply their trades in leagues around the world.