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Match Analysis

Rohit vs Varun, and the irony Indian cricket and the IPL has created

An out-of-form India captain vs a spinner who's among the top three wicket-takers but is nowhere close to making the Indian team. Why? Because it's complicated

In a dream sequence for the players who have been picked for India's T20 World Cup squad, they ease themselves into form against IPL teams in May, and then go on to sweep all before them in the Caribbean and USA in June, storming through the competition, devouring oppositions, playing innings that reverberate for generations, bowling spells that snap top orders in two.
As far as dreams go, it is not completely unrealistic. We are in the 17th year of the IPL being the biggest franchise show in a world that has increasingly begun to favour franchise shows. Where in the earliest days of this competition, you might have sniggered at the quality of cricket, but no one has sniggered for many years now.
In fact, the IPL has become such a resounding showcase of India's primacy in the cricket market, that perhaps it has given rise to one of cricket's ironies. India has the world's greatest bank of cricketing talent in the world*; India has not won a global cricket title in eleven years. In that time, the Australia men's team have won four, England two, and even West Indies and New Zealand one apiece.
Rohit Sharma's progress in the tournament this year is turning out to be a perfect peek into this dichotomy. He is captain of his national team, but no longer leads the franchise, which sought fresher ideas and regeneration through Hardik Pandya. Rohit had rocked the ODI World Cup last year, batting in a gloriously selfless vein that helped power India to that final.
But right now, he's not quite rocking the only franchise tournament he plays in. He'd made an unbeaten 63-ball 105 in a match his team lost by a sizeable margin. (Read that sentence again - it's not one you are likely to read in the context of any other T20 tournament.) But in the last six matches, his scores have been 6, 8, 4, 11, 4, 19.
This 19, against Kolkata Knight Riders, was kinda torturous. Against seamers, Rohit was beaten frequently, particularly when he tried to hit square of the wicket. When KKR's excellent spin duo of Sunil Narine and Varun Chakravarthy came on, Rohit was visibly uncomfortable, venturing failed flicks, unconvincing sweeps, and when those didn't work, reverse sweeps that he kept missing. In the end, a top-edged sweep off Varun had him out for 19 off 24. (This sentence you don't need to read again; that's a bad innings in almost any T20, let alone one that was 16-overs-a-side from the outset.)
And so we come back to this irony that Indian cricket and the IPL has created. Varun is a 32-year-old wristspinner with 18 wickets this IPL (third on the tournament charts right now), as he frequently turns matches for his franchise. Varun hasn't made the India T20 World Cup squad, or its reserves. But he'd likely have played many more than his six international matches if he'd represented almost any other team. He was outstanding in this match against Mumbai Indians, taking 2 for 17 off his four overs despite this being a rain-shortened match.
"I'd never taken Rohit bhai's wicket, and I meticulously planned for it, and it worked out," Varun said after the match. Things tend to work out when you're on as bright a run of form as Varun is.
Meanwhile, national captain Rohit, the first name on the squad sheet, is currently skidding through a tournament in a team playing like it wishes its season was already over. His franchise captain Hardik, who will be his deputy in the World Cup if you haven't been following, hasn't had a massively fun time in the IPL either, having experienced substantial ire from crowds that resent him for either leaving Gujarat Titans, or replacing Rohit at the helm of Mumbai Indians, or both.
Elsewhere in India squad member news, Yuzvendra Chahal is having a rough run himself. Virat Kohli is being questioned for his strike rate, even as he leads the league in run volume. You begin to wonder how good a lead-in to the World Cup a two-month-long T20 competition is for India players.
It has been often thought by administrators in other countries, that when India gets its machine in full swing, they will almost inevitably dominate the sport, perhaps for decades.
Right now, though, what we know for sure is that India is dominating the cricket economy almost as completely as any nation has ever dominated it. Is it just a matter of time until they start rolling in the global trophies too? Watch how Rohit and Varun are going right now. It's complicated.
*In the men's game, at least.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is a senior writer at ESPNcricinfo. @afidelf

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