Indian Premier League May 11, 2008

From obscurity to stardom

We profile some of the total unknowns going into the IPL

There was a reason most of the domestic players were looking forward to the IPL even as early as the first auction, a time when the major domestic tournaments were still on. This was their ticket out of obscurity and drudgery, a place in between the superstardom and anonymity. While some of them, operating side by side with the international stars, have highlighted the difference in class, many of them have held their own and more. The likes of Sanjay Bangar, Rajat Bhatia, S Badrinath, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, VRV Singh, Ashish Nehra, Yusuf Pathan, and Ravindra Jadeja are some of the known. Here, we profile some of the total unknowns going into the IPL

Ashok Dinda has shown he can mix it with the best, in both first-class cricket and in the IPL (file photo) © Getty Images

Manpreet Gony
Medium-pacer, Punjab & Chennai Super Kings
Nine matches, 11 wickets

When Cricinfo spoke to Gurusharan Singh, Punjab's coach, just before the start of a grim season where they too, like Bengal, were hit hard by the ICL, one of the brighter spots according to him was this 6'4" tall medium-pacer called Manpreet Gony. He didn't have a great first first-class season, taking 13 wickets in five matches at 47.53, but did well in the limited-overs Deodhar Trophy.

That's where VB Chandrasekar spotted him, and when Chennai lost their first-choice pacer Sudeep Tyagi to injury they picked Gony without wasting any time. Gony shares a number of similarities with his Punjab team-mate VRV Singh. He is of a similar hefty build, has a similar approach to the wicket, a little smoother than VRV, and looks to hit the deck - the good length being his major business area. And just like VRV has done for Kings XI Punjab, Gony has provided Chennai with a solid medium-pace option in the IPL. He has looked unfazed in face of some fierce hitting, has surprised the batsmen with the bounce, and scored with his accuracy. After the first nine games, Gony is the highest wicket-taker for Chennai, ahead of the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan (6) and Makhaya Ntini (0).

Gurusharan can now speak in an I-told-you-so tone. What's worked for Gony, according to Gurusharan, is his mental strength. "He is a smart bowler, very calm, doesn't break into a dance when he gets wickets, and most importantly doesn't get dejected when he is hit for runs." All along under the calm exterior there is an aggressive fast bowler's brain. Thrown into the shortest form of the game, he has learnt how to survive bowling against some of the most destructive batsmen, an ability his coaches testify to. "He got only 13 wickets in Ranji, but is a quick learner, has learnt the change of pace and the yorker very quickly." What's more, both Chandrasekhar and Gurusharan feel that the IPL is merely a stepping stone in what promises to be an exciting journey.

Ashok Dinda
Medium-pacer, Bengal & Kolkata Knight Riders
Seven matches, five wickets; Econ: 6.00

About four years ago, as visitor to Kolkata from Naichanpur, a village about a three-hour drive from Kolkata, Ashok Dinda went to one of the nets and bowled a few overs. Atal Dev Burman, the coach overseeing the nets, was so impressed he asked him to stay back and play cricket. The young man said he couldn't afford it, and the coach then took him in. He slowly got him a place to stay in Kole Market, a strugglers' haven near Sealdah rail station. A basic contract with the Kalighat club, and then a stint with the Australian Institute of Sport in the Australian Emerging Cricketers tournament followed.

Three years later, after having become a regular member of the Bengal Ranji team, Dinda, with an exaggerated leap into the delivery stride and the grunt that rivals Shahadat Hossain's, is proving to be too slippery for the batsmen in the IPL. In a tournament that even the best bowlers settle for an economy-rate of under 10 an over, Dinda has bowled 23 overs at a run a ball.

"The best thing about him is his attitude," says Paras Mhambrey, who coached Bengal for two years. "He has come up the hard way, and doesn't take anything for granted. He is always prepared to bowl long spells, and never shies away from hard work." The virtues for him through the tournament have been simple: accuracy and consistent pace around the 140-mark, which makes sure the ball reaches the batsman before the grunt does.

Dinda has also enjoyed the faith of his captain, Sourav Ganguly, who has been giving him the first over ahead of Ishant Sharma. The seeds for the faith were perhaps sown in the season-opener in the 2006-07 Ranji Trophy. Ganguly, looking to make a comeback to the national side and desperate for a win, turned to Dinda to defend 147 in the fourth innings. Dinda obliged with a five-for.

Wriddhiman Saha, a college drop-out who's struck gold with the IPL © Getty Images

Wriddhiman Saha
Wicket-keeper, Bengal & Kolkata Knight Riders
Six matches, 114 runs, SR: 148

At the start of the 2007-08 Ranji season, Bengal were the side most hit by the defections to the Indian Cricket League (ICL). Wriddhiman Saha, a high-school drop-out from the northern town of Siliguri, replacing the captain and the wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta, had big boots to fill. Dasgupta watching the game at Eden Gardens, saw Saha emulate himself with an attacking and unbeaten century on debut. He later went to the dressing room to congratulate Saha, and although Saha's season didn't live up to the start he had got Bengal had found a new plucky wicketkeeper. His making to the side was as good as his graduating from college for his father: he allowed him to pursue cricket full-time.

The same pluck was on display when he, in association with David Hussey, nearly pulled off a miracle for the Kolkata Knight Riders in their IPL match against Kings XI Punjab in Mohali. At 50 for 5 at the halfway mark, chasing 178, the game was almost over for Kolkata when the two came together. They started slowly, and the equation soon came down to 96 required off 36 deliveries, and that's when Saha began to attack. His 50 came through his fourth six, off the 28th ball he had faced, and suddenly Kolkata had brought the target down to 19 off the last over. He had shown glimpses of that talent in the earlier games too, starting off well against the Chennai Super Kings, scoring 27 off 16 balls. After six matches, he is the third-highest run-getter among the star-studded Kolkata line-up. He has shown skill with gloves too, coming up with a lunging catch to dismiss Rohit Sharma, and then a smart run-out that involved a lunge to collect the ball, and then a quick turn and whip of the bails.

Swapnil Asnodkar
Batsman, Goa & Rajasthan Royals
Three matches, 131 runs, SR: 131

Mumbai Indians didn't pick Swapnil Asnodkar, robbing viewers of a simulation of the great Sanath Jayasuriya-Romesh Kaluwitharana combination. Rajasthan Royals did, and if anyone was likely to spot the Kalu from Goa, the ultimate cricketing backwater in India, it had to be Shane Warne, who knows a thing or two about suffering at the hands of that Sri Lankan team of the mid-nineties. Out of the blue Warne unleashed him on the unsuspecting Kolkata Knight Riders and Asnodkar responded with a match-winning 34-ball 60.

For six years now, Asnodkar has been scoring runs consistently in Indian domestic cricket, but it's been in the Plate League that usually manages to escape the scanner of even the most ardent followers. For the last four years, he has been Goa's leading run-getter. And last year he took it one level higher: smashing 640 first-class runs at 71.11, including his highest score of 254 not out. He also featured in the Challengers last year, although without any impact.

Under a leader who can put an arm around a player and make him feel worth much more than he might be, and in a format that gives him the license to pull out the shots from the first ball, Asnodkar has come into his true self. "I had told him [Asnodkar] that his chance would come," Warne said after the Kolkata match, "when the opposition is not expecting him to play and we will throw him in as a surprise tactic. I have done a lot of work with him in the last couple of weeks. He was fantastic." Anything on the good length, and just like Kaluwitharana he rocks on to the back foot, ready to cut or to pull. He has followed the shock 60 with 32 and 39 in his next two games, and his team now has started trusting him as a regular opener. "He is an outstanding talent and we always had faith in him,'' says Darren Berry, the chief cricket officer of the franchise.

For six years now, Asnodkar has been scoring runs consistently in Indian domestic cricket, but it's been in the Plate League that usually manages to escape the scanner of even the most ardent followers

Dhawal Kulkarni
Medium-pacer, Mumbai & Mumbai Indians
Seven matches, 8 wickets, Econ: 7.33

Dhawal Kulkarni's snorter to get rid of Rajasthan Royals' hard-hitting batsman Ravindra Jadeja was the coming together of everything that could be right with a bouncer. It wasn't too short, it wasn't wide, it wasn't down the leg side, and there was no getting away for Jadeja, who looked to save his head, and edged the ball to the wicketkeeper. Such shocks come rare in Twenty20 cricket, rarer still from a bowler who is yet to make his first-class debut.

That, so far, has been the high point for Kulkarani's IPL, and not surprisingly it came in what was Mumbai's high point - a win over table-toppers Rajasthan. Kulkarni's fortunes have soared in conjunction with his team. After modest performances in the first four games, he played an important hand in the team's three successive victories with figures of 3-0-15-0 (against Kolkata), 2.5-0-18-2 (Delhi), and made a fighting comeback against Rajasthan after being taken for 17 runs in the first over to finish with 3-0-21-2.

He prefers simple to the spectacular when it comes to bowling: he has a smooth run, doesn't go for extreme pace, does not tire of hitting the right areas, and uses the bouncer and yorker sparingly.

Despite a late introduction to the game at 15, Kulkarni has fast-tracked his growth. The sporting genes that run through his family would have helped him: his father was a badminton champion at university, and younger sister has been a national rifle champion.

In the Under-15 Shatkar Trophy, a tournament where Mumbai greats have made their early appearance, Kulkarni bagged 18 wickets in just three matches. But despite having represented Mumbai in the Under-17s, and a match-winning 8 for 47 in the Under-19 Cooch Behar Trophy final against Tamil Nadu in 2006 (and a tally of 42 wickets in seven games), he couldn't make his way into India's U-19 World Cup team. However he had impressed the coaches on the U-19 trips to New Zealand and Sri Lanka, which brought him into the Mumbai Ranji fold first and now into the Mumbai Indians squad.

Additional reporting by Nagraj Gollapudi

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo