Point to ponder?

John Buchanan’s plea for a fifth overseas player in the playing XI notwithstanding, the IPL will be better off with the present restrictions. Indian cricketers should benefit most from the IPL.-PTI

Kolkata Knight Riders’ coach John Buchanan has called for the inclusion of a fifth overseas cricketer in the playing XI. Is the beleaguered Buchanan seeking excuses, or raising a valid issue in the context of the teams fielding their best? asks S. Dinakar.

John Buchanan’s plea for a fifth overseas cricketer in the playing XI has been rejected — for the time being — by the IPL. Will the idea add depth to the field or prove counter-productive vis-a-vis developing Indian talent?

Are all the foreign players making a difference or is their worth over-valued?

The super coach’s side in the IPL, Kolkata Knight Riders, has stumbled and slipped. The combative Brad Hodge aside, the overseas stars have largely disappointed for Knight Riders.

Is the beleaguered Buchanan seeking excuses, or raising a valid issue in the context of the teams fielding their best available XI?

Termed by the BCCI as a domestic competition, the IPL has pledged to groom young Indian cricketers. The competition provides the domestic cricketers an opportunity to rub shoulders with the best cricketers in the world on a big stage.

Under the circumstances, making room for an additional foreign player could be at the cost of a promising home-grown player. An influx of overseas cricketers will dilute the Indian content.

Whether Twenty20 cricket is the right form of the game to nurture cricketers can be debated but the IPL does provide the aspirants a platform. The audience is huge and the performances get noticed.

There is, of course, another side to the argument. Limiting the overseas players to four in an XI has forced several shining stars to cool their heels in the dugout.

The legendary Glenn McGrath has been sitting on the sidelines for Delhi Daredevils. Paul Collingwood did not play a single game and Daniel Vettori does not find a regular place for the same side. Makhaya Ntini is struggling to make it to the starting XI of Chennai Super Kings and Dale Steyn, the hottest paceman in Test cricket, has been ‘dropped’ for a lot of games by Bangalore Royal Challengers.

There is intense jostling for places among the overseas recruits. In omitting a worthy player, a team’s balance could be hurt. And more foreign stars on the field of play could elevate the quality of the contests.

Apart from enhancing the strength of the teams, it would make the budding Indian cricketers earn their spots in the XI. Presently, a few of the younger domestic cricketers only make the numbers.

Every IPL XI has three components; the international stars from India, the foreign players and the domestic cricketers including those from the under-19 category. Buchanan is targeting the last section for an additional overseas slot.

The franchises could mount pressure on this issue as well in the days ahead. Having shelled out millions for the stars, they would want to field their best sides. Apart from the compulsions of the international calendar which dictates the tenure of participation of the foreign stars, the teams have to grapple with the restrictions imposed by IPL.

But then, a hard look at facts reveals that not all big names have delivered. While Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Mahela Jayawardene, Tillekeratne Dilshan and Abraham de Villiers have sizzled, others like Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff, Brendon McCullum and Chris Gayle have largely disappointed.

And little-known Indian cricketers Naman Ojha and Shadab Jakati have exceeded expectations in the cauldron. Apart from keeping wickets, Ojha has stroked the ball confidently at the top of the order for Rajasthan Royals. Left-arm spinner Jakati has bowled well under pressure; he has mixed his length and used the arm-ball effectively.

In fact, the IPL is not about stars alone. Some of the best value-for-money acquisitions by the franchises have been unheralded names. Dirk Nannes, a 32-year-old Aussie from Victoria, has bowled zestfully for Delhi. The left-armer has swung the ball, changed his pace and used the short delivery effectively.

Nannes has made early inroads and bowled well at the death; he is lively and has strong shoulders. The success of Nannes has kept McGrath on the bench.

Or take the case of another left-armer Yusuf Abdullah. He has the build of a wrestler but has bowled with much craft for Kings XI Punjab.

The lanky Sudip Tyagi is someone with immense possibilities. He bowls around 135 kmph and achieves bounce from a high-arm action. Chennai Super Kings have rightly invested on this bowler from Uttar Pradesh.

Even as much focus is on overseas stars, some of the Indian names have shone in South Africa. Rudra Pratap Singh, scripting a return to international career, has bowled with verve and swing for Deccan Chargers. He has struck with the new ball, castling maestro Sachin Tendulkar with full length and late movement.

Suresh Raina has delighted with his array of strokes and surprised everyone with his flattish off-spin at the death for the Super Kings. Of course, he is vibrant on the field.

Last season, the left-handed batsman had used the IPL as a platform to mount a comeback to the Indian team. Now, Raina is humming again.

Given the depth in the Indian cricket these days — only Australia has a better pool of talent — domestic cricketers are not exactly a handicap for a franchise. All they require is more exposure and confidence.

Come to think of it, Yusuf Pathan was a domestic cricketer not too long ago. Now, he is among the most feared strikers of the ball in world cricket.

Buchanan’s plea notwithstanding, the IPL will be better off with the present restrictions. Indian cricketers should benefit most from the IPL.