A few days ago, Cricket Australia decided to call back the national team’s star all-rounder Shane Watson from the ongoing Champions League Twenty20 tournament, in order to ensure that he takes part in a few Sheffield Shield games to be ready for the crucial home Test series against South Africa.
Cricket Australia must be lauded, as they have shown where their true priorities lie. Another reason cited for Watson’s recall halfway through the highly meaningless Twenty20 club tournament was the all-rounder’s tendency to get injured at inopportune times. For instance, Watson missed the entire home Test season last summer, although Australia won five out of six Tests, including a 4-0 thrashing of India. The Sydney Sixers, the T20 club for which Watson is playing, are definitely not amused. They are feeling shortchanged now, that their star player is being taken away from them. But Australian captain Michael Clarke, not exactly known to be a fan of T20, has said that for him, Test matches are the topmost priority, and added that surely Watson would be feeling the same. It is one of the most important home seasons for Australia this summer, as they play three Tests each against world champions South Africa and then Sri Lanka.
There is a lesson to be learnt here, especially for the money-minded board of Indian cricket, the BCCI. It is quite clear that Twenty20 has been the priority of the BCCI, ever since the IPL was initiated. Many top Indian players gave the Duleep Trophy a miss, so that they could take part in the Champions League. Seemingly, the franchises refused to release their star players (it has hardly made a difference though, as the IPL sides are being beaten by all and sundry in the tournament), and we find players like Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir playing for their ‘clubs’.
Speaking of Sehwag, he was supposedly ruled out for two weeks after suffering an injury during India’s last World Twenty20 match against South Africa on 2nd October. But surprise, he was all padded up and raring to go as he turned out for Delhi Daredevils in the Champions League, within much less than two weeks. It is not for the first time Sehwag has risked his body to ensure his participation for his IPL team. Last year, Sehwag played in the IPL in spite of suffering an injury, and later on missed the tour of the West Indies. He also missed the first two Tests of India’s disastrous tour of England, and was supposed to be India’s saviour when he returned for the third test at Edgbaston. He ended up bagging a king pair. Bother.
Not just Sehwag, India fielded many players carrying niggles from the IPL for that tour of England. Zaheer Khan, who became so used to bowling four-overs-a-game in the IPL, lost his rhythm and his fitness, and was ruled out of the series on the first day itself. It led to horrendous consequences, as India were whitewashed 4-0. Time and again, we see Mahendra Singh Dhoni whine about player burnout – but he has no such complaints when he turns up for Chennai Super Kings. Why, the run-machine Tendulkar himself skipped the tour of the West Indies last year, opting for ‘rest’ after a tiring IPL, in which he unsurprisingly did not miss a single game.
Thankfully, all the top Indian players will be available for the first round of the Ranji Trophy in early November, since the first Test against England begins on the 15th of the same month. But in spite of that, the truth is, Indian players play too much meaningless Twenty20 throughout the year, when they can easily skip a few of these matches to prepare for the tougher 5-day duels. It is important that the players know what the limitations of their bodies are – and their priority should be to be fit for all important Test matches, even if that means missing out for their IPL franchises. After all, playing for a club team just does not match represntating the nation – but then money has the capability to change minds very quickly.
In the future, the BCCI will hopefully learn from their mistakes and take a cue from nations like Australia and England – who seem to be, sadly, the only two nations who manage to get full houses for their home Tests (although the turn out at Bangalore in the recent visit by New Zealand was encouraging). But as long as the IPL is there, expect many more clashes between ‘club’ and country, and all we can do is hope that more often than not, loyalty to the nation triumphs over loyalty to money.