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David Warner of Sunrisers Hyderabad plays against Chennai Super Kings during an IPL match last year. Photo: Parwaz Khan/Hindustan Times
David Warner of Sunrisers Hyderabad plays against Chennai Super Kings during an IPL match last year. Photo: Parwaz Khan/Hindustan Times

Battle-weary players gear up for IPL

After the long and intense World Cup campaign, will the slam-bang league feel like a bad hangover?

Within days of Australia being crowned world champions for the fifth time, many cricketers are making a beeline for India, the commercial hub of the game, for the eighth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which started on Wednesday. The appeal and glamour of the tournament, which comes on the heels of a long and tiring world cup, means fatigue doesn’t really matter. And then, as Shane Watson says, for non-Indian players there’s the added appeal of taking the cricket field and not feeling “like we are playing against a billion people".

Watson is part of the 11-man-strong Australian contingent that has had to shake off the hangover after winning the Cup to start afresh in the premier Twenty20 (T20) event. Fifty-four of the players that participated in the six-week-long World Cup are part of the IPL.

“We have four players from the team that won the World Cup, certainly a special occasion," said Watson, captain of the Rajasthan Royals, in a conference in Mumbai on Monday.

“The great thing about the World Cup was that even though it was a longer and high-intensity tournament, the matches were spaced out pretty well, so we could start fresh for every game. After enjoying the week that we spent at home celebrating, we are all ready and fresh to go at the IPL."

His former captain and the current coach of Mumbai Indians, Ricky Ponting, concurs with the assessment. The once-combative Ponting has been thrust into a role where he will have to play the mediator in his squad between Australian and New Zealand players who clashed in a not-so-cordial Cup final just about 10 days ago.

“That’s all forgotten now," Ponting said during a conference in Mumbai on Sunday. Bringing together players of different countries and cultures remains IPL’s biggest appeal, and probably its biggest challenge. “The Kiwis are hopefully over it. The Aussies have had one solid week of celebration. So the guys know what’s needed of them here," Ponting said.

The window available for the IPL in the cricket calendar means that every four years, it comes on the heels of the world cup. Players could get just five days’ rest after the 2011 edition, though most of them had already assembled in India—for the world cup—and were up to speed with the Indian pitches and conditions.

Rahul Dravid, mentor to the Rajasthan Royals, acknowledges the fatigue factor and says he’s happy if the squad gathers as late as possible so that his players are in the best frame of mind.

“It’s not easy for a lot of these guys and I know (they) have gone through a really emotional roller-coaster ride that is the world cup. It is a tough event to be part of. We know that the other teams are having the same issue of players participating in the world cup and then having a long, full season. I think the challenge for the IPL teams is to manage that, to recognize that the players are excited about coming here, but they have also had a long season," said the former Indian captain in Mumbai on Monday.

Ajinkya Rahane of Rajasthan Royals. Photo: Vijayan Gupta/Hindustan Times
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Ajinkya Rahane of Rajasthan Royals. Photo: Vijayan Gupta/Hindustan Times

One person who will be eager to put the World Cup experience to good use is New Zealand’s Trent Boult, snapped up by Sunrisers Hyderabad for a massive 3.8 crore for his debut season in the league. Boult was the highest wicket-taker (22) at the World Cup, and was instrumental in taking his team to their maiden final. The left-arm seamer will now have to adapt his fiery game to the slow batting tracks in India.

“Yes, the length changes, I guess," Boult said on Tuesday in New Delhi. “I have played a few games in India and the wickets here are a bit slower. With the night games and humidity, the moisture in the air, I hope the ball swings and, hopefully, I get success with that." Boult will be sharing bowling responsibilities with the equally deadly South African seamer Dale Steyn, as well as Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma.

Boult will also have to adjust to playing under Australian opener David Warner, against whom he faced off so abrasively in the World Cup final. “Obviously it’s going to be a different experience," Boult said. “Last month playing against them in a grand final, and a couple of weeks later he is my captain, so it’s very unique. But very much looking forward to working with him."

Of course, the IPL is not Test cricket or the world cup. The stakes just aren’t as high; cricket is still a sport that puts country over club. The IPL matches, with entertainment as its core value, are often here today, forgotten tomorrow. Unlike most leagues, the IPL makes no provision for promotion and relegation. It’s a much shorter format of the game, with less physical and mental toll on players.

But it could still be that extra burden to carry after an already tiring haul.

A lot of teams—especially India and Australia, who played a high-stakes Test series followed by a tri-series (involving England) in Australia—had played a lot of cricket before the World Cup as well. They now have to switch over to a different continent, different time zone, different conditions and a different format.

“I am ready for it," Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma said on Sunday in Mumbai.

“We have known the schedule much in advance. We knew there would be four tough months in Australia (for players from the Indian team), followed by two months of the IPL. As professionals, we have to make that adjustment. Of course, it was disappointing not to bring the World Cup back, but I guess in life we always (have to) look forward. I had a little bit of a break after the World Cup and joined the team in training the last two days. It’s another opportunity for the players to do well."

Rahane, who will combine forces with India’s tormentor-in-chief Steve Smith while playing for the Rajasthan Royals, says players had to make full use of whatever time they got away from the game. “The few days I got to spend at home, it felt good. Now that I have joined RR (Rajasthan Royals), I am excited about the season ahead," he said in Mumbai on Monday.

Most players take a similar pragmatic line. The competition doesn’t allow for much room to skip or complain, not publicly anyway. And for many of them perhaps, the commercial and popularity gains from a tournament like the IPL, mean there is no such thing as too much cricket.

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