By Yajurvindra Singh
The ‘Lakshmana Rekha’, the famous line drawn by Lakshman for Sita not to cross when he went to find Ram in the forest, as mentioned in the Ramayana, seems so synonymous with the way the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) participating sides appear at the moment.
In case of Sita, the sacred line was not to be crossed, similarly, the top teams in the tournament seem to be following the same ritual.
Each side in the IPL requires at least eight wins to maybe secure a place amongst the last four for the knock-out stage of the tournament. With the Mumbai Indians (MI), Delhi Capitals (DC) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) languishing earlier at seven wins, with a fair amount of matches to go, one seemed certain that they would all sail into the respective top three slots.
The ‘Lakshmana Rekha’ drawn to cross the line has now become an ordeal for both Delhi and Bangalore. Mumbai Indians, after their comprehensive win against RCB in their last match, are the first team to cross the seven seas and continue to the next stage of the tournament. MI look a strong side to defend their title, even though their captain and star player, Rohit Sharma, cannot support them due to a hamstring injury.
Cricket, as one says, is a game of many uncertainties and with none of the teams looking distinctly better than the other, there could be a possibility of five teams ending up with eight wins. This could lead to a run-rate scenario and would, therefore, make the IPL even more interesting to watch. With the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) having already lost its place for the play-offs and the only side at present out of the reckoning, they could be a spoil sport for all the other sides competing. They did put a spoke in the wheel of RCB’s progress by beating them in their last encounter.
Rajasthan Royals (RR) unfortunately cannot accumulate more than seven wins and so will depend on the outcome of all the other teams performances. An interesting outcome, however, could develop, if RR wins both their remaining matches against Kings XI Punjab(KXIP) and Kolkata Knight Riders(KKR). This then would deter both KXIP and KKR’s progress and thus create a possibility of five sides finishing with seven wins each.
The IPL has never in its 13 year history been so closely fought. Every franchise has spent considerable time in evaluating and analysing their squad and all of them boast of world class performers. Therefore, teams are much more evenly matched as regards their international stars and the ones showing consistency are the ones where the Indian domestic stars are performing well.
The IPL, for these domestic performers, is the only opportunity to exhibit their skills and talent. Therefore, it had a significant impact on the selection of the players for the Indian tour to Australia. Varun Chakravarthy, the KKR leg spinner, due to his sterling performance of getting five wickets against DC on the eve of the selection day, made it into the Indian T20I squad. He made the significant progress of stepping over the ‘Lakshmana Rekha’, the line that differentiates the national players from the international ones.
However, this was not the case for Suryakumar Yadav. The Mumbai batter missed out being a part of the Indian line-up even though he has consistently performed in the domestic tournaments and in the IPL as well. Unfortunately for him, the international Indian stars that he is competing with, also did equally well and so for him to seize a place proved to be once again a futile effort. This is where lady-luck plays a vital part in a cricketer’s career and one did feel sorry for Yadav as he played a fluent and scintillating knock of 79 runs to make MI win against RCB on the very day the Indian squads were announced. He did so against Virat Kohli’s side, in style with dignity and grace leaving behind a definite message for the Indian captain to ponder over.
The IPL has been a severe test for the cricketers as regards their fitness as well. The lockdown with its restrictions and the lack of practice, due to Covid-19, has led to injuries and muscle strains in many of the players. The T20 format maybe a shorter version of cricket, but it requires a burst of speed, not only while batting or bowling but also during the 20 overs of fielding. Each run saved is a run gained and so a cricketer needs to exert that much more from his comfort level to give that extra bit for his team. This is why players succumb to injuries and niggling aches and pains.
This unfortunately has been disastrous where Indian cricket is concerned. One of their most destructive batsmen, Rohit Sharma, is in the list of injured and not a part of the Indian touring side for Australia. Similarly, Ishant Sharma, India’s most experienced fast bowler, is also in the injured list. Apart from these two, there are a few more who will be carrying their injuries Down Under for a grueling encounter against the Australian side, who are itching to take their revenge for their Test series loss against India when they last toured in 2018-19.
One is still perplexed as to why a simple hamstring injury has kept the ‘Lakshman’ of Indian cricket, Rohit Sharma, away from the Indian touring side to Australia. If he does not enter the bio-bubble right at the beginning, then for him to be a part of the team later on would be a time consuming effort. Maybe, he has drawn his own “Sharma Rekha” from which Indian cricket may have to draw him out, especially when they play the first Test match against Australia in a day/night encounter at the Adelaide Oval on December 17.
India has a lot at stake, not only to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy but also to garner enough points to qualify for the first ever Test Championship final to be held in England in June 2021. They need their most experienced players to get them over the sacred line.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)