Ten teams in IPL 2022 was cause for celebration for several people: the new franchises, the IPL governing council because there are more games and therefore greater brand value, the players because the recruitment pool has expanded, the venues hosting matches because it’s great limelight, and the audience because…well who doesn’t like more cricket? If there are people who don’t, we can do what we’re adept at doing with minority opinions and pretend it doesn’t exist.
There is the argument that a greater number of players means quality is spread a bit thinner. On the surface, that is true. Given Indian cricket’s talent pipelines, there is every likelihood that in a few years’ time, the ten-team IPL will be as brimming with talent as the eight-team one was. For the first year though, there have been teams with varying degrees of unevenness.
That, however, isn’t necessarily an undesirable thing. When your resources are spread thinner, you innovate. That’s what IPL teams have been doing too.
R Ashwin, one of the game’s best thinkers and tacticians, became the first player to ‘retire himself out’. He was batting fairly okay, he had even hit a couple of sweetly timed sixes, when he upped and left in the middle of the 19th over of Rajasthan Royals’ innings against Lucknow Super Giants. Batting partner Shimron Hetmyer didn’t know what was going on. Spectators might have wondered – given that they were seeing a cricketer making an unexpected exit – whether it was Ashwin or Imran Khan.
Ashwin’s reasoning was sound, and he wasn’t forced off the field. (Definitely not Imran then. Those thinking of taking to the streets to protest a Pakistan player’s inclusion in the IPL, sit back down. That WhatsApp forward you got is wrong.) No, Ashwin went off because he knew that his team had someone who was a better hitter than he was in Riyan Parag, and with ten balls left in the innings, there were just enough that even if Parag got out early, there was Hetmyer at the other end to provide a reasonable finish anyway. If Parag connected with a few, it would add five to ten runs extra to the Royals’ score.
Bold, selfless decisions ought to be rewarded, so it was great to see Parag make 8 off 4 balls while Hetmyer went ballistic, and the Royals ended up with 165. How valuable Ashwin’s gesture was can be seen from the result margin: the Royals won by just three runs. In an eight-team IPL though, Ashwin might not have been batting so high up, because teams would have been better resourced, and would have most probably had the option of a batter who could both rebuild an innings and hit big.
The greater spreading of superstar players has also meant there is the potential for more magic moments. Like Rahul Tewatia facing up to the last two balls, 12 runs needed for victory, and hitting two sixes. Would a Tewatia – even given his history of doing this – have been in the starting XI of any franchise with just eight teams? Possibly not, because he came into this IPL on the back of the indifferent form.
But with ten teams, there’s room for a dash of Tewatia madness and Ashwin composure both. And that’s worth celebrating.