It’s the Indian Premier League (IPL) and so seven Indians must be in the playing 11. That’s a rule enforced since IPL’s inception in 2008 to promote Indian talent. The flipside: a number of highly-paid overseas stars stay benched. Having to kill time in the dugout and watch high-octane battles gets to some.
A list of overseas players yet to get any, or very little, match time is deep enough to make the league’s ninth team. Many of these cricketers are not used to being benched and what isn’t helping is the restriction of life in a bio-secure bubble.
Kings XI Punjab’s Chris Gayle, the self-styled Universe Boss, was out for the entire first half of IPL13. The team preferred to shore up its bowling line-up with two foreign players and completed the quartet with Glen Maxwell and hard-hitting West Indian southpaw Nicholas Pooran. Which meant no place for Gayle.
When news finally trickled in that the 41-year old T20 legend would play after the franchise suffered many defeats, Gayle spoke like only he can. “It’s disappointing to be honest with you. You don’t come here to sit around. But it is what it is. It’s a team sport and whatever the selection panel feels right, you take it. Two days to the opportunity, and I am more happy for the fans,” he said, in an interview to the official broadcasters.
“They (fans) have been waiting when…when…when… will we get to see the Universe Boss. I will do what I know best, try to entertain as much as possible. Am always going to be Chris Gayle as always.”
Gayle smacked five sixes in his first outing and helped KXIP clinch the next match in the Super Over.
James Neesham, New Zealand’s hero in the 2019 World Cup final – three wickets and big runs in the Super Over – didn’t have the best of starts to this year’s IPL. Brooding over his poor form, Neesham came across a story that quoted commentator Aakash Chopra questioning his place – ‘Neesham Is not a match winner, why are KXIP playing him’. He tweeted back targeting Chopra, ‘Averaging 18.5 striking at 90 doesn’t win many matches either’.
Neesham was benched following three below-par outings. Later, when spotted by an online user sitting unimpressed in a picture where the coaching staff was rejoicing following a close win, Neesham tweeted: “When you’ve been through what I’ve been through you just get a bit numb.” On Tuesday, Neesham featured in a winning cause, taking Prithvi Shaw’s wicket and being unbeaten when KXIP beat leaders Delhi Capitals.
Some teams like Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) have an embarrassment of overseas talent. CSK haven’t found a way to play last year’s highest wicket taker, Imran Tahir yet. When commentator Mark Nicholas asked Tahir in a mid-match flash interview if he was biting his lips, looking at the wickets slowing, he replied tongue-in-cheek: “Ya, I think you missed it. Look, I am biting my lips.”
Australia fast bowler Josh Hazelwood played his second match for CSK on Monday. “It is frustrating. You know, coming to the IPL, it is tough to get a game. There are only four overseas spots and all our all-rounders have been going great guns,” he said, in an interview on the IPL website. When one of the all-rounders Dwayne Bravo got injured, Hazelwood got his turn. Tahir and New Zealand’s ace left-arm-spinner Mitchell Santner haven’t.
‘Big Billy’ Stanlake, the tall fast bowler picked for his pace, cannot be faulted if he has given up on playing for SRH where the overseas quartet – captain Dave Warner, opener Jonny Bairstow, spinner Rashid Khan and Kiwi captain Kane Williamson – can’t be dropped on form. If Stanlake was harbouring any ambitions, coach Muttiah Muralitharan’s comment would have set him back. “No, pace is not the real thing. It’s how well they bowl as fast bowlers. With the bowling side we really can’t find any fault,” said Murali.
Also making the numbers for SRH are West Indies captain Jason Holder who came in as Mitchell Marsh’s replacement, and T20 specialist spin all-rounder Mohammed Nabi.
There’s more to the list. Chris Lynn, who would explode at the top for Kolkata Knight Riders, can’t break into the Mumbai Indians 11, this year. Nor can West Indian big hitter Sherfane Rutherford, and Kiwi fast bowler Mitchell McClenaghan. And South African T20 match winner David Miller is cooling his heels with Rajasthan Royals.