There was a time when a cricketing tour of India was something to be reckoned with. Touring teams not only had to face the perils of players such as Bedi, Azharuddin and Tendulkar, but they had to be able to cope with the absolutely singular experience of playing cricket in India. The grounds were mysterious, the food was exotic, and the pitches were unlike anything found in any other cricketing country. Fast forward to the super-charged atmosphere of today’s cricket, and in particular the IPL, and it’s easy to see how this mystique has evaporated. You see, in their quest for the big bucks, the Indian Cricket Board (ICB) has sold out one of their national trump cards. The days of feared tours to India are surely gone, as more and more players flock to the country once a year to play in the IPL.
There are a number of reasons why touring India is no longer as problematic for foreign players. Firstly, as mentioned, players are going there much more often, and are thus acclimatising to the conditions. Secondly, the ICB has poured millions of dollars into modernising its grounds, thus making them much more player-friendly. Lastly, the pitches, which used to provoke absolute fear in batsmen, particularly from Australia and South Africa where pitches are much bouncier, are now increasingly placid, and don’t take too much spin.
The cumulative effect is that a new generation of players for whom the only challenge faced in an Indian tour is in the actual matches themselves. Furthermore, if the ICB decide to unleash a young ‘unknown’ (granted, very unlikely in a team that still holds Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman) it is more than likely that the touring party would have either already played with or against them in the IPL.
The ramifications for the Indian cricket team are fairly clear. Although the team is still strong, for a long time they have relied on their home form for many of their wins, particularly in test cricket. I will never forget the 2001 Australian tour of India, when the Aussies tried and tried to breakthrough for a series win, but were denied. When they did finally win a series on their next tour, it was a momentous occasion. However, thanks to the IPL, it seems certain that future tours will be much more even. The IPL is of course fantastic for Indian cricket, but may well have an adverse effect on their national team well into the future.
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