At the start of the year, there was a lengthy meeting at a five-star hotel in Mumbai where some BCCI office-bearers huddled with India captain Rohit Sharma, who was present virtually, head coach Rahul Dravid and National Cricket Academy chairman VVS Laxman.
Their topic of discussion? ‘Workload management,’ a term bandied about by the board in the media to give an impression that something is being done about it.
The BCCI, it seemed, was a bit concerned with the workload of the players in the light of 2023 being the year of the World Test Championship final and the ICC ODI World Cup in India in October-November.
The after-effects of a long tournament like the IPL were visible and certainly played a part in India’s dismal campaigns in the 2009 T20 World Cup in England, and in the Test series two years later, which the team lost 0-4.
Another IPL later, we still have no solution to this problem. There was no sign of any player’s workload being managed during the IPL.
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In fact, the last batch of the four Indian players supposed to be playing in the WTC final at Oval – Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane (CSK), Shubman Gill (GT) and Mohammed Shami (GT) – were locked in a tense IPL final, which stretched to three days, just a week before the Test.
Someone like Mumbai Indians coach and former South African wicketkeeper Mark Boucher feels that a tournament like the IPL isn’t too much taxing because it involves playing just T20 cricket.
However, these are high-intensity T20 games in a short duration, with hardly any time left for the body to recover before the next match. Almost all the players carry some niggle or the other.
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At the start of the tournament, a report emerged that Rohit Sharma would rest for a few games, allowing Suryakumar Yadav to lead Mumbai Indians, but that happened in just one match. With MI’s qualification on the line, Rohit ended up playing almost every game in IPL 2023.
Not to forget, this was the first IPL post-Covid which involved the home and away format since 2019. It meant the players were on a usual ‘Bharat darshan’ trip, clocking thousands of air miles with its attendant hassles.
Add several matches which go deep into the night, and you have a situation where the body clock of the sleep-deprived cricketer goes for a six. A classic example was the reserve day of the IPL final, which saw the post-match ceremony finishing around 3.30 am!
That brings us to the million-dollar question. Will the players be fatigued going into the World Test Championship final against Australia?
“No, fatigue is definitely not a factor for international players. These players’ workloads have been monitored continuously. They should be raring to go and be able to give their best,” former India left-arm spinner and ex-national selector Sunil Joshi told TOI.
Barring Cheteshwar Pujara, who was enjoying another dream season for Sussex, all the other Indian cricketers were involved deeply in this rigmarole. In contrast, the Aussies, with a view to win their first WTC title and the Ashes, were more focused on getting as used to the English conditions as possible.
Being left unsold in the IPL auction in December proved to be a boon in disguise for someone like Steve Smith, who revelled as Pujara’s teammate in Sussex, getting some useful runs and game time in the UK.
The Aussie pace battery is also fit and raring to go. Skipper Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc decided to give the IPL a skip, while Josh Hazlewood played for RCB in just three games, in which he bowled 9 overs.
In a curious turn of events, the pacer flew back to Australia mid-way into the IPL due to an ‘injury,’ but was pronounced fit for WTC and the Ashes in a few days’ time.
The only Aussie players involved in both the IPL and the WTC final are allrounder Cameron Green, who had a stellar season for MI, and veteran opener David Warner, who captained a floundering Delhi Capitals campaign.
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As they scamper to prepare for the big final while trying to put in a few meaningful practice sessions in the UK without even a warm-up game under their belt, India’s top cricketers are clearly in danger of being under-cooked for red-ball cricket.
Joshi, though feels that Team India “has had a good preparation”. “The fact that we are practicing at the Arundel Castle Cricket Club – a open ground where there’s a strong breeze – will help our cricketers immensely, as the ball will swing a lot there, and the bowlers will get an idea of bowling with and against the breeze.
“Form is important irrespective of format. If a pacer is hitting the hard lengths and a batsman is able to middle the ball, everything should be fine.”