Shreyas Iyer
Shreyas Iyer will not turn out for Kolkata Knight Riders due to the recurrence of a back injury. It had disrupted his appearances in the Bangladesh and New Zealand series before ruling him out of the final Test against Australia in Ahmedabad. Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL

IPL 2023 is barely a week away. That’s barely 10 days after Australia’s tour of India. Is that enough time for the Indian players to recover for the gruelling 74-match season beginning on March 31? How will the league impact the players ahead of India’s World Test Championship final in June?

There are no easy answers here. Everyone loves the Indian Premier League. It’s the world’s best and most lucrative Twenty20 franchise cricket. The lure is too strong for players to stay away. This is why Indian captain Rohit Sharma appealed to the franchises to manage the workload of Indian players.

“It’s all up to the franchises. The franchises own them [the players], so we’ve given some indications or some borderline kind of thing to the teams. But at the end of the day, it’s up to the franchise and, most importantly, it’s the players; they have to take care of their own body,” the Indian captain said in Chennai after the third ODI against Australia.

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Jasprit Bumrah, who underwent back surgery in New Zealand recently, will not feature in IPL 2023. The Mumbai Indians fast bowler has not played since September. Image Credit: AP

Sharma’s intentions are indeed honourable, but the franchises have far more at stake. Having spent millions on buying players and training them, nothing will stop the franchises from chasing the IPL title. That includes the workload on star players.

That’s indeed worrying. Kolkata Knight Riders lost their captain Shreyas Iyer to a recurring back injury; it surfaced during the Bangladesh and New Zealand series before ruling him out of the final Test against Australia in Ahmedabad.

Mumbai Indians’ attack will be without their spearhead Jasprit Bumrah, who has been out of action since September; his premature returns only prolonged his absence. Prasidh Krishna will not turn out for the Rajasthan Royals as he is undergoing rehabilitation following a stress fracture in the back; he hasn’t played competitive cricket since August.

India's Mohammed Shami i
The workload of Mohammad Shami, who missed the Bangladesh series due to injury, will be under the scanner. The Gujarat Titans pacer will lead the Indian attack in the World Test Championship final in June, in Jasprit Bumrah’s absence. Image Credit: ANI

Indian pacers Mohsin Khan of the Lucknow Super Giants and Mukesh Choudhary of the Chennai Super Kings too are under injury cloud, and they may be no-shows for IPL 16. That’s not all. Pace bowlers Mohammad Shami (shoulder injury), Deepak Chahar (hamstring injury) and Kuldeep Sen (stiff back) were laid low in the recent past. In fact, Chahar played no part in the Chennai Super Kings’ campaign last year.

Clearly, these injuries are worrying. Former Indian international Virendra Sehwag blames it on excessive gym work. He says weight training may not be suited for all players since each requires a different fitness approach. Well, Sehwag comes from a time when there was not much emphasis on physical fitness.

More games, more injuries

Players these days are more agile and fitter. And that’s the result of the time they spend in gyms, training under the watchful eyes of fitness instructors. These are professional athletes who are acutely aware of the demands of their bodies. So, it’s unlikely that they would put themselves at risk of injuries.

If these players are in peak fitness, why do they break down often? Excessive workload is the simple answer. Today’s cricketers play far too many matches: Tests, One-Day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals. Then there’s franchise cricket. True, Indians are banned from playing franchise cricket other than IPL. That’s not enough. India’s international players play far too many matches. When you play so many games, the risk of injuries is very high.

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So what’s the remedy? How can we curtail the number of matches Indian internationals play? Giving broad guidelines to IPL franchises won’t help. No franchise will want to reduce the appearances of their star players. All teams want to win, and for that, they will pull out all stops. The guidelines on workload management are wasted on them.

The onus is on the Indian cricket board. The Board for Control of Cricket in India cannot enforce the workload management guidelines on the franchises, but they can manage the workload during international matches. They could take a leaf from the book of England and Wales Cricket Board.

Why rotation is a good idea

The ECB implemented a rotation policy in 2021, which helped safeguard players from burnout. Given the vast talent pool, India could borrow the idea. In fact, India had rested senior players like Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Ravichandran Ashwin and others recently. They could extend it to more players. The team management can decide on players requiring adequate rest to prolong their careers.

The Indian board’s previous attempts to rest players haven’t gone well with the fans and some former cricketers. Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar opposed players missing out on international duty, especially from T20 Internationals.

The decision to rest players should be left to the Indian coach and the captain. They are aware of the demands on each cricketer. So, when a player strains under the international workload, he should be given a break to recover. Or else Indian cricketers will have more injuries more often.