Gaurav Kalra has been producing sports content on television for over a decade. He started his career at Trans World International where for four years he worked on a variety of programming including magazine shows, news bulletins and live broadcasts. In his next role at Quintus, Gaurav produced a series of programming under the Wisden brand name, including the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century and the Wisden Awards. Gaurav joined CNN-IBN as Sports Editor in 2005.
Let me get this straight. Every time a ball crashed into Rahul Dravid's stumps this Australian summer, it was because stints with the Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rajasthan Royals had corrupted an otherwise flawless technique. And when those edges flew from VVS Laxman's bat into the slips, it was safe to assume that his static feet were a curse from the Deccan Chargers and the Kochi Tuskers.
Gautam Gambhir has become so accustomed to dabbing the ball for a single to third man in his Kolkata Knight Riders uniform that he can't resist the temptation against a red ball with a slip cordon waiting. And surely it has been ingrained in Virender Sehwag's head that replicating his dashing cameos for Delhi Daredevils while taking strike against a rampaging attack is the only method to open a Test innings. Yes, even these wretched Mumbai Indians have sneaked into fortress Tendulkar so he pokes and prods at that fellow, you know ... Nathan Lyon.
Foolhardy as that sounds, it appears now to be the principle argument for India's meltdown as a Test playing nation. The Indian Premier League is at the root of all evil. Join the dots and here's your ready-made villain. Just look at it. Garish and unrelenting, commercial and crass, greedy and ungentlemanly, the IPL is a demon with horns. Stop it while you can else it will devour all that we hold so dear to our heart. And as the fierce protectors of Test match cricket will remind us, we told you so!
The devil though, is in the detail. And spurious indignation directed at a tournament that really exists as a mere island on the cricket firmament is a silly distraction. In England and Australia, India were hammered not because this was a team infected by the lure and lucre of a glitzy league. They were beaten because the personnel on duty survived on reputation. Lived on hope. Thrived on indecision. India paid the price for the lack of courage and the poverty of ideas.
Ironically, the one player who enhanced his stature in the ruins is a product of the so called 'IPL generation'. The middle-finger wagging, profanity spewing Virat Kohli. Who just happened to be the only one to make a century in the series. Found a way to top score in both innings on a testing surface in Perth. Made more runs than each of the venerated legends who preceded him in the top order. The dude is on a $2 million deal for six weeks of work, gets those hideous tattoos and is forever alleging brothers and sisters consummate relationships. Yes, that brash IPL type fellow was India's only real positive in the series.
Let's be honest. The impact of the IPL on this generation of cricketers is highly exaggerated. The veterans already held imposing records and water-tight techniques before the tournament was even conceived in Lalit Modi's mind. And the Rohit Sharmas, Virat Kohlis and Suresh Rainas had already fallen to the allure of a career for India. The IPL came along as a bonus. They hopped on, enjoyed the merry ride, snogged a film star or two, took the cash, played it well on the day and frankly once the game of the day was done, let it slide from memory.
The real deal was beyond the IPL's diversions. It was in the awe-inspiring accomplishments of their child-hood heroes: Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly and Sehwag. So yes, thanks for the fat cheques and the fancy cars but please can I get a go at Test cricket? So I can front up to a Steyn or Anderson. Hit the winning runs in a tricky chase. Show off the bruises from a day of battering I didn't shirk from. Just bat session after session to save a game that everyone but me had given up on. Whip the helmet off after a ton in trying circumstances. Ahhh, give me a shot at that please.
The IPL is merely a hit and a giggle and no more. It is futile to believe that a 20-over hit-about wrecks havoc on well-chiseled techniques. Or dampens deep-rooted ambition for success in national colours. For every Michael Clarke, touted as an example of a player who reaped the benefits of giving the IPL a miss, there is a Jacques Kallis who turns up year after year. Plays every game for his franchise and returns to South African colours for more laurels in Test and one-day cricket. For every Robin Uthappa who can't seem to make the grade up from being an IPL star, there is a David Warner, catapulted to success in longer formats on the back of success in the league.
Of course, the IPL is replete with problems. But those are more administrative in nature. And in the hands of a forward thinking management, shouldn't be that hard to overcome. For one, the season is annoyingly long and waltzes into drawing rooms like wallpaper. Fewer games would attract a curious rather than indifferent audience. Why must all teams play each other home and away to find a top four among nine? Couldn't they just play each other once each? There may not be as much advertising to sell but surely lesser space would attract a higher price point?
Contracted to private owners, the players are forced to make tricky choices. Sehwag delays shoulder surgery, Tendulkar misses an international tour. Dhoni drags an exhausted body on. The BCCI, gate-keepers of both the national team and the IPL, could comfortably resolve these situations. Write in clauses in contracts that ensure marquee national players can be pulled out at the hint of injury or exhaustion. Protect the players financially and offer franchises adequate replacements if the big guns need a break. And the no brainer: reduce the number of mindless one-dayers that do little other than service TV deals. Why India played England in a five-match ODI series after an entire summer in that country is unfathomable. Why schedule a pointless Asia Cup in Bangladesh within days of returning from an exhausting three-month sojourn in Australia?
The IPL is a circus clown, not the devil incarnate. When India's Test team collects for duty, it is well aware that this is the pinnacle of their sport. In England and Australia, they were reduced to caricatures of their glorious past because skill sets had withered. Because when their opponents unleashed spunk and spark, India's golden generation had no counter. The IPL did no damage to its structure. The pillars were starting to creak anyway. And were allowed to collapse without any attempt at mending the rupture.