Ben Stokes' CSK release the latest saga in England's love-hate relation with IPL | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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Ben Stokes' CSK release the latest saga in England's love-hate relationship with IPL

Nov 27, 2023 01:07 PM IST

For some reason, the equation between IPL and English players has always been topsy-turvy.

The Indian Premier League’s tenuous relationship with English cricket is more than a decade and a half old, the passage of time doing precious little to stabilise a potentially mutually beneficial bond.

Ben Stokes played just 2 games for CSK in their title winning campaign in IPL 2023(BCCI/IPL)
Ben Stokes played just 2 games for CSK in their title winning campaign in IPL 2023(BCCI/IPL)

Among the few respected active voices in English cricket to sing praises of the world’s richest and most competitive T20 league in its early days was then skipper Kevin Pietersen, outspoken and undiplomatic. Alongside his charismatic compatriot Andrew Flintoff, Pietersen became the IPL’s most expensive cricketer in 2009 when he was snapped up by Royal Challengers Bangalore for 7.5 crore (Flintoff went to Chennai Super Kings). Every time Pietersen tried to wake the reluctant mandarins occupying the corridors of power in the England and Wales Cricket Board from their slumber and enlighten them about the benefits English cricket could accrue by being an integral part of the tournament, he was met with scarcely concealed contempt, ‘mercenary’ the least offensive of the many tags thrust on him.

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Pietersen’s stint with RCB wasn’t fruitful, but over the years, and especially with Delhi Daredevils (as the Capitals were then know), he became one of the most dynamic players in the IPL.

It wasn’t until the disaster that was the 50-over World Cup in 2015 that England finally realised that it had to get its head out of the sand. Failure to advance beyond the seven-team first stage – particularly galling, given that four sides from each group qualified for the quarterfinals – led to serious soul-searching and introspection. Grudgingly, the ECB acknowledged that for England to embrace a radically different approach to white-ball cricket with a pronounced focus on aggression, IPL stints for top players wasn’t the worst idea.

Also Read: MS Dhoni confirmed for IPL 2024 as CSK announce retention list ahead of mini-auction; Stokes, Jamieson released

Thus came a proliferation of high-ticket English names to the tournament – Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Joe Root, Harry Brook, Liam Livingstone… One gets the picture, right?

It took several of these stars time to find their feet. Morgan, who led England to the 50-over World Cup title in 2019, was largely superfluous to Kolkata Knight Riders, Buttler and Moeen went here and there before finding their calling with Rajasthan Royals and CSK respectively. Bairstow was a champion performer for Sunrisers Hyderabad, where Brook faded away after a promising start earlier this year, while most of the rest have been journeymen cricketers as far as franchise performances go.

It isn’t uncommon for big names to pull out of specific editions for one reason or the other – injuries, the need to stay with families (especially post the pandemic), international duty, workload management. But when a pattern starts to develop involving top players of a specific country, then the question worth asking is whether the franchises should make a beeline for them when there is a vast and willing pool to choose from otherwise.

Huge purses are no guarantee for success and it isn’t a player’s ‘fault’ that franchises engage in bidding wars to secure their services. More than the price tag, though, it is professional pride that drives most players. It didn’t seem to in Flintoff’s case; he only played three matches for CSK, scoring 62 runs and taking two wickets. Flintoff isn’t an exception; Stokes has turned up injured and unavailable for selection, much like Archer. Now, ahead of IPL 2024, Stokes, the England Test captain, and Root, his predecessor, have pulled out citing ‘workload management’, strange in some ways because they were aware of their workloads well in advance when they threw their hats in the auction ring a year back.

Stokes has been playing solely as a batter for a while now, a knee injury for which he will undergo surgery preventing him from bowling his brisk fast medium. Having retired from ODIs in July last year, he made a comeback this September but had a disastrous World Cup campaign, only springing to life after England had been eliminated. Perhaps the T20 World Cup in the US and the Caribbean is the reason for his IPL pullout, though who is to say that the tournament wouldn’t have allowed him to rediscover his 20-over mojo.

Root hasn’t played a T20 international for four and a half years and must consider himself lucky that Rajasthan actually went for him last year. Teams don’t buy players only for their cricketing skills; they use their services for other activities including inspiring the younger, less experienced in the group. To sign on the dotted line and then leave teams in the lurch is unprofessional and unbecoming. Perhaps, it’s time for the franchises to stop chasing these shadows.

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