Encouraging to see standard is good and rising in T20 cricket

While the mushrooming number of franchise-based leagues is largely a positive development, the challenge now is to make sure we don’t have overkill.

Asela Gunaratne... immensely talented.   -  Getty Images

It was a strange experience attending my first-ever IPL auction in my new role as coach of the Mumbai Indians. I am more used to being on the other side of the fence as a player; anxiously hoping I will get picked and wondering which team will I be joining. This time I was sitting at the table and working with the team to help fine-tune our squad for this year’s tournament.

It was good fun and the hardwork that went into the auction in terms of preparation paid off. We knew the gaps we wanted to fill and the extra options we wanted to have, and by the end we were delighted with the final balance of the squad. This was a mini auction, a chance to hone the squad, and we will start the season with a great group of players.

The IPL will follow a long season of franchise-based T20 cricket with the Pakistan Super League ongoing, as I write, the new Hong Kong T20 Blitz about to start in March, the Big Bash having ended in January, the Super Smash down in New Zealand, and then before Christmas we had the Bangladesh Premier League.

I’ve now been fortunate to play in most of the tournaments in the two years since my international retirement and it’s been a really enjoyable and fun experience. In nearly all the tournaments the standard of cricket is good and rising. The administration is improving and we are seeing greater professionalism. This is really encouraging.

For young domestic cricketers these tournaments provide a wonderful platform to showcase their talent. Just look at the PSL and you see the excitement and opportunity for a generation of Pakistani cricketers who have been starved of international cricket in their own backyard. The PSL gives them a chance to catch the eye of the national selectors.

The tournament did not have the greatest of starts with some early match-fixing controversy, but to the credit of the organisers and Anti-Corruption Units, action was swift and decisive allowing the tournament to progress without too much damage. We moved on and the cricket has been very competitive and entertaining. My only hope is that they are able to move from five to six teams next year.

While the mushrooming number of franchise-based leagues is largely a positive development, the challenge now is to make sure we don’t have overkill. The newest league has just been announced by Cricket South Africa and this new CSA T20 is going to be slotted into the calendar from mid-Nov. to mid-Dec., a schedule slot that will clash with the BPL.

I am confident that Cricket South Africa and their partners will put on a terrific tournament. I only hope that they and all the cricket boards and the ICC can put on their thinking caps and work out the best way of accommodating all the tournaments in a manner that does not lead to the interest levels of global fans dropping.

That, of course, will be tricky. The international cricket calendar, rightly, only has a window for the IPL and there is no way that multiple windows can be created for franchise cricket. I do think, though, that T20 Internationals need to be limited during normal tournaments to help some of the franchise competitions, all very important for domestic talent development, thrive.

Coming back to international T20 cricket, it was fantastic to see Sri Lanka do so well in Australia after a very tough tour of South Africa. It is true that Australia were not playing their full-strength side, but it was heartening to see Asela Gunaratne play so brilliantly to win the second game. It was an amazing innings, composed and full of high-class strokes, and he looks a real talent.

Great, too, to see the return of Lasith Malinga after a long lay-off with his knee injury. He’s worked hard to get back on the field after the second serious knee injury in his career and he slipped right back into things with three very solid performances. That is really good news for Sri Lanka — and also for us at Mumbai Indians.