Talent meets opportunity in style in the United Arab Emirates
The Indian Premier League is 13 seasons old, and it continues to live up to its stated aim of providing the opportunity for young Indian talent to mix with the best in the business and show just what they were capable of.
While each team naturally relies on the four foreign players allowed to feature in the playing eleven to do a lion share of the heavy lifting, the tournament regularly throws up young, homegrown players who make a name for themselves.
The 2020 edition of the IPL has proved to be no different.
Changing conditions befuddle experts
When it was announced that the IPL would be played across three grounds in the UAE, it was widely assumed that the pitches would struggle to keep up with the level of action in stifling heat. The hypothesis was that the pitches would be low and slow, assisting turn for the best part, making batting difficult.
But, in the early part of the tournament, it has become clear that even while some surfaces are going to be a touch two-paced, the groundsmen and Dubai International Stadium, the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, and the Sharjah Cricket Ground deserve the highest praise for the pitches they have prepared.
Regularly, scores over 175 have been put up, and equally, chasing has not been as difficult as imagined. There has been a touch of dew around, which has helped bind the surfaces and encourage the ball to come onto the bat well.
Mavi and Nagarkoti repay the faith
When they burst into the Under-19 World Cup’s public consciousness, all eyes were on Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti. Bowing at express pace, the duo hustled young batsmen across opposition, getting the commentators excited.
While the tournament in 2018 ensured that the Kolkata Knight Riders snapped up both the players, the road ahead was far from straightforward. While India did very well in the tournament, and the players seemed set for a bright future, injuries soon caught up with them.
There were stress fractures, niggles, and other troubles, and for nearly two years, neither of these fast bowlers was able to take a serious part in competitive cricket. Yet, the Knight Riders not only kept the faith in their young bowlers, they protected their investment, ensuring that they had access not only to quality medical opinion and treatment, rehabilitation work, but also the best coaching guidance.
Mavi and Nagarkoti finally repaid the faith, when the pair came good against the Rajasthan Royals. Nagarkoti returned figures of 2-0-13-2 picking up the wickets of Robin Uthappa and Riyan Parag. Mavi had 2 for 20 from four overs, claiming the scalps of Jos Buttler and Sanju Samson.
Redemption song for Rahul Tewatia
When the Rajasthan Royals played the Kings XI Punjab, a train wreck seemed to be on the cards, witnessed live on international television, and put a player in the middle of one of the toughest passages of play he might be expected to endure in a cricket career.
Coming to the crease after a big partnership between Steven Smith and Sanju Samson, Rahul Tewatia got stuck in the crease. The bowling was pinpoint accurate, and Tewatia simply could not get going.
Stuck at 8 off 19 balls, he was in serious danger of derailing his team’s chase. On social media, fans were savage in their attack of Tewatia, suggesting that the team find a way to run him out and, failing that, even consider the option of retiring the batsman out.
When Tewatia began, the required rate was just over 11 runs an over. By the time the 18th over began, the asking rate had climbed to 17. Sheldon Cottrell, the West Indies left-arm medium-fast bowler, had the ball in hand, and Tewatia was on strike.
The first ball was pulled, not terribly convincingly, for six. The second ball was swung over the square boundary for a second maximum. The third ball was carved over long off for another six, and for the first time in a long time, Tewatia could begin to breathe normally. The fourth ball was a full one, and Tewatia swept it hard and flat for a fourth consecutive six. The fifth ball was a slower one and beat Tewatia, but he came back hard, hitting the final ball of the over for a six.
Five sixes in an over and Tewatia had turned the game on its head, taking his own tally to 53 off only 31 balls. Yuvraj Singh, who is still known for the six sixes he hit off a Stuart Broad over in the International Cricket Council Twenty20 World Cup, was quick to take to Twitter, cheekily breathing a sigh of relief that Tewatia had missed one ball in the over. From being down in the dumps, Tewatia was the toast of India.
There were several red-faced critics who were forced to eat their words, but more importantly, here was a young man, an earnest, hard-working cricketer who fought through incredibly tough times to come good.
Shubman Gill stands tall
For some time now, Shubman Gill has been trying to find his place in the scheme of things in Indian cricket. It has been well known that he has set himself up perfectly for success, scoring runs in all formats of the game in domestic cricket.
However, despite attracting the attention of talent scouts and coaches alike, it was difficult for Gill to get enough match time in a competition such as the IPL. With too few opportunities and most of those coming lower down the order, Gill could not stamp his authority on the game.
The 2020 tournament has changed this. The Kolkata Knight Riders have played Gill at the top of the batting order, ensuring that he has the canvas he needs and the backing of the captain and the think tank.
Standing tall at the crease, waiting on the ball, and keeping his shape while essaying proper cricketing strokes, Gill has shown he has the technique and temperament to go with natural ability. In his three innings so far, Gill has 124 runs, including a best of 70 not out.
With a deep batting order, Kolkata Knight Riders are a dangerous team batting first or chasing, and their decision to use Gill as the bedrock of the line-up at the top of the order is paying dividends.
Ravi Bishnoi turns it on
The Kings XI Punjab have not had the best time of it in the IPL over the years. One of the key reasons for this has been the unsettled nature of their playing contingent and coaching staff. But, they were a distinctly different look in the 2020 edition.
With KL Rahul installed as captain and Anil Kumble as a coach, the team seems to be bedding down well. And the first major beneficiary of this is the young leg spinner Ravi Bishnoi. At the Under-19 World Cup, Bishnoi was a great success, his mix of leg-breaks and googlies being a bit too much for inexperienced young batsmen.
But, there was always a question mark of how he would transition to the next level. Against seasoned domestic campaigners, international stars, and India stalwarts, Bishnoi would have to have his wits about him, on top of executing his skills with accuracy.
The presence of Kumble would be a great help, of course, but it was down to Bishnoi, who had to use the resources at hand at the end of the day. And he has done so in splendid fashion. Bishnoi has taken the pace off the ball nicely, used the wrong one judiciously, and kept batsmen in check by putting the ball in the right places.
Here is a young man who came in as a rookie trying to take a step up and is already in a position to claim he fits right in. If anything, he has bowled with maturity, and the captain can now rely on him to deliver the goods.