It was a moment that should have carried huge meaning for the Indian Premier League. 21-year-old KC Cariappa dismissed AB de Villiers; in a rare moment of reckless exuberance, the South African stepped out and failed to slam the ball. He was stumped. The IPL propaganda machine wouldn’t usually let such an opportunity go. Here was a chance to embellish the tournament’s credentials as a talent producing industry for Indian cricket.
However, the moment came and passed. So did Cariappa. It was the only time he played all season for Kolkata Knight Riders. Why was he special? He belonged to the rarest of rare groups. He was among the very few Indian cricketers who made their IPL debut before playing in any of the major domestic competitions. Unlike all other young Indian stars of the tournament, he was an IPL find in a real sense.
However, just like the short history of IPL discoveries, he didn’t show his wares for long. It’s a conundrum that endures. Despite the IPL’s apparent benefits, there seems little commitment from the franchises to develop specialist T20 cricketers on their own.
Almost every sports league in the world demands a youth or grassroots development programme from its participating teams. The Indian Super League, the franchise football competition that experienced a successful inauguration last year, does the same.
One may ask why is it necessary to identify and develop young talent. The answer isn’t too complex. For a format that demands specific skills and presents unique scenarios for cricketers, franchises would be well served by training youngsters before they are exposed to any form of domestic cricket. Sadly, little exists in the name of scouting. The players signed by a franchise are the ones developed by the domestic cricket associations.
This practice is fuelled by a constant lack of connection between a franchise and its home city. None of the franchises seem to make an obvious effort to add a local colour to their operations. In fact, Delhi Daredevils have undergone massive changes in personnel too. It would be surprising if anyone remembers the names of players who represented the franchise in the past few seasons.
A more severe indictment of the tournament is the lack of local players in a side. In fact, one would often find a cricketer representing a side that is not his actual home. In the first IPL season, franchises were expected to mine local talent from their catchment area. However, that rule was later diluted.
Hence, now we find Mumbai’s Shreyas Iyer playing for Delhi Daredevils while Delhi’s Unmukt Chand represents Mumbai Indians. Such incongruity ensures that crowds fail to establish a direct connect with their city’s franchise. In fact, their associations remain with fours, sixes and the songs played by the in-stadium DJ.
Where does this put domestic cricket? Former India opener Gautam Gambhir, who never tires of eulogising the importance of IPL and the pride he takes in representing his franchise, was recently paying tributes to first-class cricket. “I feel if you really want to see a young talent, you should see him in first-class cricket and your first-class cricket should be given more importance than IPL. People in India consider IPL bigger than first-class cricket but I think the first-class cricket of any country should be far more important than the IPL because in the T20 format it is very difficult to judge a young batsman. Obviously, IPL is a great opportunity. When you play at this stage and under this pressure you end up getting your temperament right. Your mental toughness can be tested in this tournament, but your actual technique can be tested only in first-class cricket,” Gambhir had said.
This was a significant observation from a veteran. Incidentally, a few days after Gambhir’s observations, the National selectors picked a bowler purely on his IPL showing. The Harbhajan Singh-comeback was driven by his improved stuff in the IPL where he was said to have bowled with the rhythm that marked his attacking style. It was ironic indeed that IPL had become the defining factor in Harbhajan’s toil to return to the National Test team.
Even Sachin Tendulkar had warned of youngsters showing their preference to play the IPL ahead of their State associations. It is no secret that some key players, in order to avoid injuries, don’t push themselves in domestic cricket, reserving their best for the IPL. It has been debated for long but the authorities have not found a solution to sustain the interest of the youngsters towards domestic cricket.
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