The lead-up to the 2017 Indian Premier League has been fraught, to say the least.
The hangover from the Lodha Committee’s findings saw confusion over start dates, a delayed auction and the early suspension of the selling of global media rights all hit the BCCI hard.
Not only that, the franchises’ preparations have been more hasty and there has been a near constant scramble toward Wednesday’s opening night.
Everyone involved thought those concerns were over. But, alas, once again preparations have been hurt this week, just five days out from that first match of the tournament.
Already without the likes of JP Duminy, Quinton De Kock, Kevin Pietersen, Mitchell Marsh and Mitchell Starc, teams have been hit by an influx of absentees – for a variety of reasons – that has forced the hands of their recruitment personnel.
Replacing an overseas player isn’t as great of a concern, however, there are plenty of unsold resources ready to be outsourced and only four spots in a playing XI – ten in the squad – up for foreign imports to grab.
Whereas when it comes to homegrown talent, the big names are far harder to replace, as will prove the case for the Rising Pune Supergiants, Kings XI Punjab and Royal Challengers Bangalore, in particular.
Pune were rocked by news that Ravichandran Ashwin will miss the entirety of the tournament, while Kings XI are coming to terms with Murali Vijay’s wrist injury and RCB have to take to the field without Virat Kohli for at least the opening weeks of the tournament and KL Rahul another to withdraw entirely.
They are not the only franchises with doubts surrounding their India stars, Gujarat Lions and Kolkata Knight Riders in full knowledge that Ravindra Jadeja and Umesh Yadav will need to be rested at the start of their respective campaigns.
Ashwin and Rahul out of IPL. Vijay as well. Kohli doubtful. Umesh and Jadeja to miss the start. We still have to cheer, right? #IPL2017— Ajit Vijaykumar (@ajvk1984) March 31, 2017
Each of those players are mainstays for their franchises and were all instrumental in India’s dominant form at home this winter.
Kohli smashed a tournament high 973 runs last season, Vijay was Kings XI’s highest run-scorer and Rahul hit four fifties while providing RCB’s greatest weight of runs behind Kohli and AB de Villiers.
Ashwin (10 wickets), Yadav (10) and Jadeja (8) didn’t have defining seasons but they are on the back of probably their best form with the ball having bowled India to win-after-win on home soil since last October ushered in their long home season of Test cricket.
They are as irreplaceable as players can be, no other potential call-up from the domestic pool anywhere near the pedigree of these names.
It will certainly provide opportunity for players on the periphery to show the world what they are capable of, but their teams’ chances are diminished before a ball is bowled without their frontline Team India stars.
Where they go from here is pretty straightforward, with a change of setup required in terms of both balancing player roles and overseas players.
RCB will have De Villiers lead the side – a doubt himself – and need to reimagine their openers, likewise at Kings XI with Vijay needing to be replaced at the top of the order.
A foreigner will have to come in for Yadav if KKR are to go like for like, the 29-year-old their sole Indian quick, or a rejig required in how many seamers and spinners they go with.
But it is Pune and KKR that will be hit the hardest, the Supergiants in particular.
There are few spinning all-rounders in the world better than Ashwin and Jadeja – as established by their spots in the top two of Test cricket’s best bowlers – let alone within their squads.
Not only is it a problem for their teams, it also hurts the competition, sponsors and fans now faced with a slightly watered down product thanks to the after effects of an arduous home season with the Champions Trophy on the horizon as next on the national team’s agenda.
It is a worry for now but you can guarantee that should a new crop of players emerge and India go deep in the Champions Trophy that all will be forgiven and forgotten in a hurry.