As Virat Kohli prepares to play in his 164th Indian Premier League game against the Chennai Super Kings, the Royal Challengers Bangalore captain comes in as the best batsman of the modern game.
In 2008, when the IPL greeted us with its numerous sponsorships and sold-out stadiums, Kohli amassed 165 runs in 13 games at an average of 13.00.
Since then, all seems to be in place for a year that will provide substantially more than that.
King Kohli has given us more than what he produced in the first edition – 2016 saw him accumulate 973 runs in 16 innings at an average of 81.08 – and as Shane Warne pointed out in an interview with CNN, having the IPL has done no harm to Kohli’s rise over the years. Being opened-up to the endless bowling possibilities has given him the platform to be the very best against the very best.
In its 12th edition, the IPL has somehow kept itself at the forefront of cricket’s brain, a relevant piece of money-spinning importance that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Without it, where would Kohli be? Would we be talking about him in the same breath as Sachin Tendulkar?
It has been the gluttonous springboard for what has become “The Twenty20 Juggernaut”, with leagues being formed in all parts of the cricketing world. None of them will have the sheer wealth and player power of India’s premier cricket competition, but they all play their part in creating players that can propel the old guard from their relative slumber.
It’s not a secret that cricket’s long-standing formats – tests and one-day internationals – have come under threat from the 120-ball, quick-fire version for a decade, and as children become less patient and lose more of their attention span, that threat isn’t disappearing anytime soon.
Yet, the World Cup – for as long as it is made to feel relevant, the pinnacle of any cricketer’s career on the world stage – has found a way to still hold its head up high, scrambling through the grasp of T20 delirium, learning from it and carrying on with tweaks here and there.
This year, there will be 10 teams vying to be the very best in England – it would be hard to argue otherwise with nine round-robin games, a semi-final and final to give us the winner – and although the favourites may be India and England, the IPL has taught us that anyone has a chance so long as you have wickets to spare or bowlers that are good at their craft.
But for all the lessons we may learn from it, the IPL will have to contend with being the pre-show – with all its glitz and glamour – before the main event, the background music playing as the perfect foil, just like the World Cups in 2011 and 2015.
We could argue for hours on-end if it’s necessary to have the IPL carnival hosted before a World Cup – especially this year’s edition, which seems to have a lot riding on it for a number of teams – but we can’t run away from the fact that it’s here, and everyone involved will be using it as a platform for bigger things, an ironic position to be in given the IPL’s status in modern cricket.
Its impact has been there for all to see – in 2015, the World Cup saw a paradigm shift in the way teams conduct their innings, either setting up scores beyond the 300 mark or chasing down said scores with overs to spare. The top teams are getting better at staying in the game, constantly imposing themselves on bowlers and making full use of power-plays and consistent surfaces.
Bowlers, with this aggressive change in batting, are now content with economy rates that hover around the 5.80 mark so long as they can chip in with a wicket or two. Batsmen are looking to keep bowlers under pressure, so variations in bowling have become a must – back-of-the-hand slower deliveries, wide yorkers and knuckle balls have all made the rounds.
It’s not enough to just go for a batsman’s throat anymore – with the size of the bats available, you’ll see yourself flying over the wicketkeeper’s head for six more often than not.
So, thank you IPL, for giving us a change from the norm; for letting us involve ourselves with the best cricketers out there for six weeks of starry-eyed excitement and commercial consumption.
You may be seen as a threat to the old guard, but in some ways, you have kept them breathing for some time. Let’s see what this year’s back seat edition will bring for the many faces looking to be at the World Cup Main Show in June.