From Dhoni to Kohli, why skippers prefer their IPL boys in national team

File photo of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli
Indian cricket team captains like Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli seem to prefer playing more with players from their respective IPL teams even in the national team. We have seen that for various tours over the years. But is there a real correlation between the composition of IPL teams and the Indian national cricket squad?


Business Standard analysed historical data, valuation reports and franchise balance sheets to comprehend the correlation, if any. What emerged was an interesting picture. The facts first.


In 2014, when Dhoni was the captain of Chennai Super Kings, its players found a spot in the national squad 35 times in five tours. In 2017, when Virat Kohli captained Royal Challengers Bangalore, the team found a place in the Indian national side 26 times in eight tournaments. This was the highest among all IPL teams that year. An aberration was perhaps Mumbai Indians. Its players found a place in these tours 21 times in 2017. Mumbai’s representation in the national side has been consistent over the years.


On an average, Bangalore and Mumbai accounted for almost half the Indian squad in many of the tournaments in 2017. Bangalore's representation has risen phenomenally over the past two years, while Mumbai Indians has consistently been sending at least three players to the national team since 2010.


An equally impressive representation in the Indian team is that of Sunrisers Hyderabad. But Hyderabad's high representation is on account of some of its marquee players like Shikhar Dhawan, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who have all been part of the Indian team for long now.


Mumbai Indians, meanwhile, has been prolific in sending many of its new and young talent to the national side. Mumbai IPL players like Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah are now an inextricable part of the national team.


Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Daredevils players, on the other hand, have failed to find a sizeable representation in the national team in years. In 2017, Kings XI Punjab sent only three players to the national squad, while only two Delhi Daredevils players got selected in the national team on an average. Players from these low-ranked IPL teams are often drafted into the national squad for low-profile tournaments where the big guns are rested. For instance, five players from Punjab and Delhi were part of the Indian squad for Zimbabwe in 2015 that played just One Day Internationals (ODIs) and T20 matches.


In the ICC T20 World Cup 2015, no player from Punjab found a place in the squad. If it was not for Team India regular Mohammad Shami, even Delhi would have been left with only Pawan Negi, who was bought from Chennai for Rs 70 million just a day after he was announced by Indian selectors as part of the T20 World Cup squad.


Punjab’s representation, too, would have been reduced to negligible if it wasn’t for Ishant Sharma, who has been a regular feature in the Indian team for a long time.


Kolkata Knight Riders, meanwhile, has also had an abysmal representation in the Indian team over the years. Kolkata was represented just about 20 times in 2017, sending on average just about two players to the squad on these eight tournaments.


So what are the inferences that can be drawn from these facts? The data seem to point to some interesting trends: Firstly, an Indian captain prefers to have his own IPL teammates in the national side. Secondly, despite not having a national captain from the city, Mumbai has contributed fresh talent consistently to the national team. Thirdly, lower-rung teams manage to have some form of representation in the national squad only because they have purchased star players who are part of the national team for long. And, lastly, there seems to be a direct relationship between a team’s brand value, brand strength, brand recall and its representation in the national team at home and abroad.


What are the reasons for these trends? “The selection of players in the Indian squad is definitely influenced by the captain of the IPL franchisee team. A captain is more likely to choose a player who is an IPL teammate, as he is well aware of the player’s mindset and reactions in every situation unfolding during a match or the tournament,” says Vaibhav Aghase, sports psychologist and director of MBI Research Institute.


Aghase has an interesting analogy to substantiate these findings. “Look at players like Suresh Raina and some others. They were part of the Indian squad despite not being strong performers,” says Aghase. For instance, during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, when Chennai Super Kings’ representation in the Indian team was at its peak, players like Suresh Raina, Mohit Sharma and Murali Vijay consistently featured in the team under Dhoni’s leadership.


During this period, Raina played in 34 matches and averaged 35 in the 21 innings in which he batted. Vijay never made it to the ODI playing eleven during this period but averaged almost 50 in Test matches. Pacer Mohit Sharma took eight ODI wickets in 11 matches in 2013 and 2014. These players continued to be in the national team despite players like Kedar Jadhav and K L Rahul being top run-getters in the 2013-14 Ranji trophy, averaging 87 and 69, respectively. Both Rahul and Jadhav, who now play for the Bangalore IPL team are also part of the national squad under Kohli, while Sharma and Raina find themselves out of favour.


The greater representation of players from the captain’s IPL team also coincides with strong performances of the national team. In 2013 and 2014, when Chennai’s players dominated the team, Dhoni’s men were on top of the world. Of the eight tests they played at home, India won six. India also won the Champions Trophy played in England in June 2013, with a third of the India team comprised of players from Chennai Super Kings.


Dhoni’s men won 22 of the 34 ODIs they played at home in 2013. In 2014, Dhoni’s men lost six of the 10 Tests they played abroad and won 14 of the 24 ODIs that year. To Dhoni’s credit, India had played all Test matches abroad in 2014. In 2016, when Bangalore’s players started dominating the national squad under Kohli, the team won nine of the 12 matches and almost half the ODIs it played that year. In 2017, India, playing most of its matches domestically, won 21 of the 29 ODIs, and lost only one of the 11 Tests played.


These statistics, however, do not take away from the fact that some non-Chennai and non-Bangalore players contributed immensely to India’s stellar performance during these years. Players like Gautam Gambhir from Kolkata, Shikhar Dhawan from Hyderabad and Rohit Sharma from Mumbai contributed with some brilliant individual performances to help the national team become world-beaters.


Some analysts believe drawing conclusions based on these coincidences might not reveal the whole picture. “It is ridiculous to think that IPL loyalties play on the mind of the Indian captains while selecting the national squad. Both BCCI (the Board of Control for Cricket in India) and captains are professional and responsible in their approach to team selection. It is the player’s performance and nothing else that is always taken into account,” says cricket historian Boria Majumdar.


Talking of the converse in terms of notional gains, how does it help an IPL team if it has greater representation in the national squad? A look at IPL’s brand valuation reports over the years holds some answers.


A report prepared by Duff and Phelps last year shows that Mumbai Indians was the most valuable team over the past two years in the IPL, with a valuation of $106 million – it jumped 36 per cent between 2016 and 2017. Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad occupied the third and fourth places in the valuation pecking order.


Kolkata Knight Riders was ranked number two despite minimal representation in the national side. But Kolkata’s brand value over the years, as is well known, has been driven more by Shah Rukh Khan, its celebrity Bollywood owner, than its players. The report states: “Constant celebrity presence like that of Khan also added up in making Kolkata Knight Riders a visible brand on social networks. KKR is the most followed IPL team on Facebook with 15.74 million fans along with 2.83 million followers on Twitter and 0.4 million followers on Instagram.”


Another report prepared by Brand Finance also has similar findings. It ranked Kolkata as the most valuable team in 2017 followed by Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. It noted that Mumbai was second to none when it came to brand strength as well. The report said: “Mumbai Indians (MI) are the most powerful brand among all franchises, with a Brand Strength Index (BSI) score of 71. The team has consistently backed young emerging Indian cricketers and dropped the strategy of shuffling players, often seen as an unnecessary experimentation. MI has stable governance standards. Its host of local and national sponsorships has shown loyalty over the years.”


Brand Finance Managing Director Santosh N told Business Standard: “Presence of top national team players with a certain franchise also enhances the chances of that franchise to command a premium from advertisers. Add to that the higher probability of fans turning up at stadiums to watch their favorite stars play. The presence of marquee players does add to the possibility of a team having an enhanced brand value, though there also are other factors contributing to a franchise brand value. Key among them are on-field performances, corporate governance & transparency, location where the franchise is situated, marketing strategy, social media engagement and association with famous celebrities.”

Image credit: Brand Finance and Duff and Phelps

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