Anniversary Issue

Climbing up the ladder

At a time when seasoned players and ‘top’ teams failed to make a mark in IPL 2022, young Turks rose to the occasion and grabbed headlines, but the real challenge for them will be to seal a spot in the national team

Climbing up the ladder

As the Indian Premier League has concluded now, what stood out was not performances necessarily from the seasoned pros but many young, new names.

The way heavyweight teams, laden with superstars, have struggled this year, from Mumbai Indians to Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders to Sunrisers Hyderabad, what has come as a whiff of fresh air is names which were unheard of.

To be sure, competing in the IPL is not easy. The format of the tournament is such that unless you are super fit, lasting the whole course is near impossible. In the IPL editions, before the pandemic began in 2020, teams had to travel extensively.

Played on a home and away basis, plus late-night matches and travel from north to south and east to west at home, there was fatigue. Till the 2019 edition, when normalcy prevailed in the world, teams had to be ready to play, pack up, then unpack and play again.

In the early years of the IPL, there were after-match parties and some of the news was sensational for reasons other than cricket. The cheer girls who were part of the show did entertain the crowd. However, for purists, this show was vulgar and needed to be dispensed with.

But after that, the IPL played in a Bio Bubble, was all about cricket and just cricket. For two editions, given the Covid-19 pandemic situation at home, the tournament had to be shifted to the three venues in the United Arab Emirates — Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. The heat and humidity were killing, but none complained. For those watching the matches on television, the IPL had become a televised spectacle.

The IPL has thrown up star performers, even in the past. Names like Sanju Samson, Devdutt Padikkal and mavericks like S Sreesanth had grabbed headlines. It seems like years ago. What was unique was that some of the names which shone were not even those who had been a smashing hit in domestic cricket.

The mix of cricket and commerce has seen a huge upswing in more of the T20 format being played. This is very much unlike the previous era, where the emphasis was on Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy and Deodhar Trophy. Today, the stage to excel is the Syed Mushtaque Ali tournament, the premium T20 event, where the slam-bang stuff happens.

For purists who believed white flannels and red-ball cricket was pure and pristine, the shortest format of cricket is a curse. There is no red ball and apart from the change in its colour, there are so many more changes. Today's cricketers in the IPL wear garish clothes. The choice of colour combination is bold, with advertisements and logos adorning the jersey and pyjamas.

But then, it is this new avatar of cricket which has seen phenomenal performances from the young Turks. If Umran Malik is being touted as the super speedster and hyped sky high, there is everything wrong with it. The Jammu boy did turn in explosive performances, to start with. Yet, to praise him sky-high has been detrimental.

The T20 cricket played at home and in the international arena is very different. You cannot make a comparison between Umran and Jasprit Bumrah or Mohammad Shami. Bowling in the shortest format comes with risks. The batsmen will always be ready to take a huge swipe. And when edges and mistimed shots result in boundaries, it breaks the heart of bowlers. Yes, Umran has talent, but he has to be groomed.

Another bowler who has caught the eye is Mukesh Choudhary, who plays for CSK. In 13 matches, he took 16 wickets. Considering that CSK had a very poor IPL in 2022, with a change in captaincy and bad form producing pathetic results, Mukesh made people take notice. Before this, Mukesh had done very well in the Vijay Hazare tournament.

In addition, bowlers like Mohsin Khan and Yash Dayal also showed promise. It's easy to break into the IPL with good prices at the auction. However, in a stock market like situation, where players are bought and sold or dumped so easily, the bowlers need to learn. Success in the IPL alone is not enough. A lot harder work has to be done to be noticed.

For example, the way veteran Dinesh Karthik exploded in this tournament, people talked about another comeback for him. His batting had been sublime and the show of strength was terrific. Close to 36, he had prepared hard for the IPL. Will he be picked for the ICC World T20 to be held later this year in Australia is the question uppermost in the minds of fans.

This season, Tilak Varma, Rinku Singh, and Ayush Badoni shone with the bat. The runs they scored were valuable and made people take notice. However, this is not the ultimate achievement. Doing well in the IPL is a stepping stone. The real yardstick will be if they get picked for India, and deliver thereafter.

Many careers in the past had been ruined because of hype and not being able to handle the pressure. India's performance in recent ICC events has been far from satisfactory. The way players now get chances to represent the country is unlike before. What will count is if they can dislodge the seasoned pros.

The amount of cricket being played by boys and men is very high. It is survival of the fittest where physical conditioning is very important. Playing in the Bio Bubble has not been easy and players have complained of fatigue. How the IPL team owners handle the young players is important.

It is very easy to praise performers when they are on a high and dump them the very next moment when they do not do well. In any sport, the athlete has to be protected and preserved. Half of the job needs to be done not by the player himself but by the teams they belong to.

So, for all the headlines grabbed in this edition of the IPL, the future challenges will be more interesting. The litmus test, so to say, is getting picked for India and then shining. The IPL alone is not the gold standard.

Views expressed are personal

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