The IPL has always been about star names, Indians or otherwise. The focus is mainly on the runs, sixes, wickets and the occasional controversy. But even before the 10th edition of the tournament started, there was another storyline playing out. It was about the Australian players and their equation with the Indians.
It seems like ages ago when the Australian team arrived in India in February for a four Test series. India won what was one of the most intensely fought series in recent memory but the bad blood between the sides spilled outside the field with even the cricket boards stepping in. Captain Virat Kohli stopped short of accusing the Aussies of cheating while using the decision review system, then Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland suggested Kohli didn’t know how to spell sorry. Ravi Ashwin and Cheteshwar Pujara discussed on-field banter during a video interaction on BCCI’s website, which didn’t go down well with David Warner.
After the end of the acrimonious series, Kohli said he no longer considered some Aussies his friends. Sporting relations between the sides couldn’t have sunk lower.
Then one week after the end of the Border-Gavaskar series, the IPL started. Both teams hardly got any time to think about their ‘break-up’ before they were asked to patch things up and get on with it for two more months.
Still, cricketers are humans and the way to central figures of that combative Test series – Steven Smith and Warner – brought the best out of their respective IPL sides deserves credit.
Thanks to India and @SunRisers for your hospitality the last few months. We couldn't get the job done but we tried our best. 🙏— David Warner (@davidwarner31) May 18, 2017
The job for Sunrisers Hyderabad captain Warner was slightly easier as he didn’t have to contend with many India players who he had to take on in the Test series. However, he did captain Bhuvneshwar Kumar at Hyderabad, who was part of that Test squad and took part in the final match of that series.
But Smith had his plate full. He had been caught on camera during the final Test in Dharamsala calling Murali Vijay a “****ing cheat” for claiming a bump catch. Plus he had Ajinkya Rahane in his team. Luckily, Ashwin was ruled out of the IPL due to a sports hernia. Otherwise Smith would have had another awkward situation to deal with.
On top of that, Smith was made the captain after the Pune team owners dumped MS Dhoni quite publicly. With so many factors in play, Smith and, to a lesser extent Warner, displayed remarkable leadership skills to navigate through the tricky situation.
Warner was the only batsmen to score more than 600 runs this IPL. And Smith turned Pune’s fortunes around in one season, putting the debacle of 2016 – where they finished second last – behind and almost winning the IPL final.
No member of the Indian or Australian team would have forgotten what had transpired when the players were wearing whites. For the two Aussies to embrace their role and deliver in the best possible way speaks volumes about their abilities and also the sound system in place at the franchise.
All this happened while the Australian players were locked in a contract dispute with their board. Players are even contemplating a strike if their demand of maintaining the existing pay structure isn’t addressed.
Warner fears there might not be an Australian team for the next Ashes. With Australian cricket facing a serious crisis back home and the livelihood of international and domestic cricketers at stake, both Smith and Warner must have had to divide their time between two major cricketing issues.
Cricket, obviously, is a team game and the matches won by Rising Pune Supergiant and Sunrisers Hyderabad saw contributions from many players. But it can’t be emphasised enough that Smith and Warner stood up to the formidable challenge which emanated from the acerbic Test series and the contract dispute to keep their focus on the job on the field.
TOUGH TIMES FOR UMAR
It has not been a good few days for Pakistan’s middle order batsman Umar Akmal. Umar was first punished by the Pakistan board for misconduct during a domestic tournament where he appeared to question the unavailability of his team-mate Junaid Khan for a match. Now, news has emerged of him failing a fitness test for the Champions Trophy. And it’s not even the first time he has battled fitness issues.
It’s remarkable that a talented batsman can’t maintain a certain level of fitness at the age of 26. Last year, he was seen in a video asking cricket legend Imran Khan to recommend his promotion up the batting order as he felt he wasn’t getting enough opportunities.
If Umar can’t keep up his fitness levels, how is the team management expected to back him to succeed when the chips are down? He still has time on his side. So Umar should concentrate on polishing his fitness and game, and not allow his cricket to be sidetracked by squabbles, desperate requests or dodgy fitness.