Like I do every year, I sat down a couple of days ago to think of which players had caught my eye at this year’s IPL. Such lists can be tricky because they have to be small. Make them larger and everyone has the same players, especially given that the IPL is about the stars and the youngsters get the odd slot in. I made a list of five and then tried to see who was on the periphery. I’ve settled at eight.
Four of those are bowlers and two others can bowl and in a batting-obsessed country, that is excellent news. Whether or not these bowlers can go on and become better cricketers, we must wait and see because, even in its short history, the IPL has thrown up many promising talents who aren’t setting things on fire. Top of my head, I can think of bowlers like Manpreet Gony, Sudeep Tyagi, Iqbal Abdullah, Parvinder Awana, Veer Pratap Singh, Rahul Shukla and Siddharth Kaul. Some of them are still young, maybe they just found the wrong franchise, but the warning sign is that a year or two isn’t the best duration to predict the future.
It is easy to put Shreyas Iyer on top of that list. He came with the reputation that scoring 800 runs in the Ranji Trophy bestows on you, but it wasn’t just that. It was his ability to play longer innings, pace them well and occasionally finish them that caught the eye. A lot of Indian cricket lovers will be looking at him this coming season, and it will be a challenge. The second year is often the biggest one because people study your weaknesses and expectation gnaws away at you.
Sandeep Sharma, Yuzvendra Chahal and Pawan Negi are better known names. Sandeep was the most exciting because he had already had a good IPL and a decent Ranji season behind him. But his tribe, inswing bowlers from the north, tend to be on the slower side of medium pace. But Sandeep seemed to have added pace, and while the early overs were his best bet, he was game to bowl at the end, which is a good sign.
By the time the league phase ended, Negi was batting and bowling ahead of Jadeja and I think was being used by Dhoni to send a message to the senior player. When you are a Negi, it doesn’t matter what you are being used for, you just grab the opportunity, and he has done that. I found Chahal a little more exciting, though. Maybe it is my fascination for leg spin bowling but there is something appealing about him. It was good to see Virat Kohli throw him the ball at important moments, even against left-handers, and most times, the challenge was overcome.
I suspect his problem is going to be to find a team that lets him bowl long spells, for he cannot be an IPL-to-IPL cricketer. In 26 innings over 6 years, he has bowled only 375 overs for 32 wickets. I don’t know if that is because he isn’t perceived to be good enough or, more likely, the new-look Ranji Trophy is all about seamers. And with Amit Mishra in the side, chances will be limited. There are some good players coming out of Haryana, but the state association needs to look at Chahal and if necessary, let him go because he needs to play more first-class cricket.
My last pick was Sarfaraz Khan. It wasn’t the number of runs he made as the manner he made them that was wonderful to see. He is clearly a precocious talent and looked at home, complete with the arrogance of his shot-making and body language. Mumbai will have to handle him well because, like Suryakumar Yadav, he has made news for the wrong reasons. But both are full of promise. Developing batsmen used to be a Mumbai strength. I am not sure it still is, but here is an opportunity they shouldn’t let go with Iyer, Yadav and Sarfaraz around.
To this list of five, I would like to add Deepak Hooda, who has to show there is more to him than hitting sixes, Hardik Pandya, who seems to hit them as a hobby and perhaps the one with the most potential, Jagadeesha Suchith, who has played but one List A game and no first-class match at all. He bowls off an easy action and can bat, and I’m sure Karnataka, currently head and shoulders above the rest in domestic cricket, can find time for him. And if you want a dark horse, look at Harshal Patel who looked slippery a couple of years ago but has now kept Varun Aaron and Abu Nechim out of the side.
But we need to temper this excitement. Playing well for 20-25 balls cannot be an objective in life, for it is when you can play 200 that you remain a better 20-ball player. The IPL gives opportunity to ability, but these players have to do the rest themselves. Many promising players have struggled thereafter; Paul Valthaty, Saurabh Tiwary, Mandeep Singh and even this year, Axar Patel and Sanju Samson.
A few underachievers
And finally, there were 3-4 players I was waiting to watch and who had a disappointing IPL. The reasons could be many, and to be fair, some of them had their moments. I was hoping to see if this could be a breakout year for Manan Vohra who found himself on the bench too often to feel good about the game. So too did Unmukt Chand and Jasprit Bumrah who I thought had something about them. But my biggest disappointment was not seeing Kuldeep Yadav because there is so much promise and novelty there.
I’ll start next year’s IPL with these names on my to-be-watched list.