back icon


How the IPL envisaged a firm reality for T20 specialists

Last updated on 04 May 2023 | 12:45 PM
Google News IconFollow Us
How the IPL envisaged a firm reality for T20 specialists

Until the inception of IPL, the perception that surrounded T20 cricket was rather an odd one

Cricket is a game that is bound for changes. Unlike other sports, there was something about the sport’s stratosphere that allowed for changes. When Joginder Sharma dismissed Misbah-ul-Haq in the final of the T20 World Cup in 2007, the Indian Premier League (IPL) was a concept in its nappies. 

There wasn’t a surety that it would work. But, the nature of the format meant that the upside was huge. When Brendon McCullum dazzled down the track to hit a maximum after the ball had whistled multiple times past his bat, there was a clear message - this format was going to move cricket forward. 

But in a magnitude that none had predicted. 

It is no secret that the IPL coincided with the boom of the shortest format of the sport. It is not that T20 cricket never existed before the IPL, but the presence and the magnitude of the IPL had changed every complexion of the format. Until the T20 World Cup, only two countries had actively invested in the business of T20 - England and Australia. 

Scyld Berry in his Editor’s Notes of the 2009 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, wrote “It looks as though the supranational IPL is the single biggest change in cricket not merely since the advent of the limited-overs game in the 1960s but of fixtures between countries in the 19th century: that is, since the invention of international or Test cricket.’

It was a format that was viewed as a place for younger audiences, for more entertainment but it was never necessarily viewed as something that was a beast on its own. KFC Twenty-20 Big Bash and the T20 Blast brought together plenty of entertainment but it always co-existed with the other formats in the country. 

In essence, none of the T20-based tournaments provided an opportunity such as the IPL to give life to players who accepted the shortest format as their own. To put things into more context, look at the growth of franchise-based competitions and T20 tournaments around the world since the first edition of the IPL. 

KFC Twenty-20 Big Bash was renamed as the Big Bash League, and the six state-based teams had now been converted into an eight-city-based tournament. In the wake of IPL’s success, T20 Blast saw various proposals of a two-division league with promotion and relegation. 

Later on, the tournament was also sponsored by NatWest Bank before Vitality became the sponsor of the competition, with teams adopting names such as Kent Spitfires, Hampshire Hawks, Worcestershire Rapids, and Essex Eagles. 

That was rather England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB)’s first step towards making a competition that mimicked the IPL - the Hundred. 

The Hundred was a completely different entity from the other tournaments that the world of cricket had seen. Only 100 balls per innings, a bowler being able to bowl only five/ten balls which were called a set. Basically, it was ECB’s way of bringing newer audiences into the frame of things. 

But, what changed in between all this was completely different. The fact that there were more and more T20 leagues, courtesy of the IPL’s success - the Caribbean Premier League, the Pakistan Super League, the SA20 and so on - cricket gave an opportunity to more T20 freelancers. 

Until the longest time, all three formats were always viewed in tandem, but the popularity of the T20 leagues around the world ensured that T20 cricket branched out on its own. And it branched out in quite a sublime fashion. 

The players for the longest time were dreaming to be part of their respective national teams across the three formats. But the world has changed over the last decade, and that precisely was an aftermath of the IPL effect on the world of cricket. 

The Tale of T20 Merchants

Will Smeed is 21 and has already signed a white-ball-only contract with Somerset. Ten years ago, the English youngster would have been criticized by the veterans of the game but the evolving nature of the sport is such that T20 has become an epitome for some dreamers.  

It was no surprise that Smeed grew up watching the IPL, and also had no hesitation in admitting that out of the three - Ashes, World Cup or the IPL - he would rather play the IPL. He was 17 back then but the crux here is that the right-hander has made more appearances across the globe, notably in The Hundred, T20 Blast, Abu Dhabi T10, PSL and the International League T20 (ILT20) before making any appearances in the red-ball format. 

Monetarily, it makes sense. And as someone who possesses brute force in the shortest format, it makes cricketing sense as well. “I would much rather be a master of one trade than a jack of all,” Smeed put it down outright. 

The popularity of T20 tournaments now is such that there is a huge demand and influx for players possessing a particular skill set. It is also evident from the fact that you see franchises hold on to some top talents despite them not playing regular cricket vis-à-vis the others who are toiling hard in the longest format of the sport. 

Sunil Narine was a pioneer in this regard. The mystery spinner started his career as a T20 specialist, with his bag of tricks adored by franchises around the world. He’s represented Trinbago Knight Riders, Sydney Sixers, Barisal Burners, Quetta Gladiators, Oval Invincibles, Montreal Tigers, Melbourne Renegades, Lahore Qalandars, Kolkata Knight Riders, Guyana Amazon Warriors, Comilla Victorians, Cape Cobras and the Dhaka Dynamites. 

Narine was quick to identify the shortest format as his strongest suit, and stuck by it irrespective of what was thrown at him. It is a testament to his skills, and the nature of the beast is such that Narine has played 448 games, and could very well play his 450th very soon. The fact that he’s played a total of 19 First-Class games, with the last in 2013 shows that cricket is fast evolving. 

His fellow country-mate, Kieron Pollard and Andre Russell too were in the same boat. Before hanging boots, Pollard played 625 T20s, in which year after year, he chased success. If one year it was for TKR, the other year it was MI. 

"Pollard in my opinion is not a cricketer," Windies legend Michael Holding didn’t hold back when asked about Pollard plying his trade in the various T20 leagues. 

At one point, Pollard was perhaps one of the most ‘despised’ cricketers in the Caribbean. But, through the various T20 leagues, including the cricketing shore across the Indian border, where he played for Multan Sultans, Pollard made a grand return to the national setup as the captain. Had it not been for the various T20 leagues, that possibility would have never been a reality. 

Russell too has had his fair share of controversies with the West Indies national board, but it was only after he saw the success of playing in varied T20 leagues across the world. Russell has just played the one Test for the Windies and that was 13 years ago, in contrast to the 445 T20s that he has played all over the world. The underlying fact here is that the success of IPL has rather envisaged a firm reality for the T20 specialists. 

Early last year, the reality of T20 specialists only became clearer, when New Zealand Cricket (NZC) agreed to release Trent Boult from their central contract. The pacer no longer had to represent the BlackCaps in every clash and, in fact, last played an international fixture last year in the T20 World Cup, against Pakistan. 

“T20 merchants” is a word that has been overused in the last decade, and the booming nature of the various new cropping leagues has ensured that it is a word that will never die out of fashion. While for the longest time, it was meant to make fun of the players, it has now become a modern-day truth. 

It is almost like those Converse shoes that survive the dramatic fashion wave that thunders every year. 

Related Article