Can IPL familiarity breed World Cup success?

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In the spring of 2011, the Indian Premier League (IPL) was just three seasons old when teams descended on the subcontinent for the tenth edition of the ODI World Cup. Overseas players travelling to this part of the world were far more at ease by this time than in earlier decades, but one suspects it was still a daunting prospect for many. From the dusty and bustling streets to the varied characteristics of different venues, from the spicy food to the passion for the game among fans, the India experience could be overwhelming. It wasn’t for cricketing reasons alone that Steve Waugh termed the country the ‘final frontier’.

India captain Rohit Sharma and teammate Virat Kohli as they walk back after Sri Lanka’s innings in the Asia Cup 2023 final match, at R.Premadasa Stadium(BCCI Twitter)

The communication channels between IPL franchises and overseas players weren’t open all through the year yet. These players weren’t appearing in TikTok videos or Instagram reels and dancing to Bollywood songs yet. They weren’t collaborating with Indian content creators on social media. Nor were they having hush-hush negotiations with the franchises on signing lucrative multi-year deals.

As another World Cup looms, a tour of India is far from a novel experience for most of these players. With IPL — now 16 seasons old — expanding and gaining in prominence with each passing year, participation in it has almost become de rigueur to be considered a white-ball cricketer of repute, akin to what English County cricket once was for overseas professionals yearning to become better first-class players. Every March, April and May now — the league is likely to take up even more time in the calendar next year onwards — players from across the world willingly grace these shores and soak in the sights and sounds of the country. Sample this Instagram post from David Warner — an IPL veteran — on arrival in India for the ongoing three-match series. “Always great to be welcomed back to India. We are always well looked after and well protected. #india #love.”

In the process also comes integral learning about the nuances of how different pitches behave and the key ingredients to succeeding here. When they then come back for international commitments, they can dip into these learnings and pass on the knowledge to some of the lesser experienced players. A great example is how Eoin Morgan urged his teammates to embrace IPL cricket and then led the transformed side to the 2019 World Cup crown.

Joe Root, a seasoned and sublime all-format batter, was eager to get a taste of IPL experience this year, arguing that it would do him long-term good as opposed to a few first-class matches for Yorkshire.

“Clearly. I want to be very careful how I say this because I don’t mean to disrespect County cricket,” Root said in an interview to HT in April. “It is the bedrock of the English game and is so important to everything that happens within our system. But in the position that I am in, by playing six games of County cricket, am I going to develop more as a player compared to six weeks of experience in IPL? To work with different players in these conditions ahead of an ODI World Cup in India, I am going to get more out of this than six County games. This is giving me a better opportunity to develop as an individual and as a player. I am able to see the game through a very different lens, which I have not had for a period of time. This is going to benefit me in the long run.”

The former England skipper’s view may have been shaped by the benefit his close friend and white-ball captain Jos Buttler has derived. Buttler already had all the tools in place to become a star at the time of his England debut in 2011, but since becoming an IPL regular in 2016, the 33-year-old has sharpened his skills and become someone capable of influencing games in all climes.

“It’s great for us that we have had so many players come and play in the IPL and know what it’s like out there. It definitely helps you to be prepared (for the World Cup),” Buttler told ESPNCricinfo’s Cricket Monthly recently.

Glance through the squads for the World Cup and, except for Pakistan, there are players in every team guided by IPL experience. Even Netherlands, who got the better of West Indies en route to making the World Cup, have spin-bowling all-rounder Roelof van der Merwe, who has played for Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Daredevils.

If the likes of Buttler, Warner, Quinton de Kock and Kane Williamson are among the older heads that have gained from their time in India, there are also many fresh faces familiar with the surroundings. Be it Australia’s Cameron Green, Sri Lanka’s Matheesha Pathirana and Maheesh Theekshana, New Zealand’s Devon Conway or England’s Harry Brook, they will know what to expect come October 5.

It perhaps chips away at the home advantage India may have traditionally had. “There are some really good teams in this tournament, but the whole thing of home advantage, especially in the sub-continent, has reduced to a large extent over the last 10-12 years because people come and play here so much, especially in tournaments like IPL where people come for two months,” India coach Rahul Dravid said last month.

We will know to what extent on November 19.

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