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When a player makes an impact in the IPL, it's no guarantee he's one for the future
May 10, 2011
Do you remember the Goa Cannon? He's been silent, like an antique one on the rampart of an old fort, a while now. Back in the first season of the Indian Premier League, when it was the Garden of Eden before the scandals and the declining TV ratings, that was the sobriquet Shane Warne gave Swapnil Asnodkar. A franchise expected to bring up the rear stormed to the top of the table and stayed there, and Asnodkar played a huge part with his exuberant and chancy strokeplay.
He finished with 311 runs from nine games and his partnership with Graeme Smith at the top of the order was as pivotal to the Rajasthan Royals' success as Warne's captaincy and skill, Shane Watson's all-round prowess, and Sohail Tanvir's accuracy. Asnodkar was no Twenty20 specialist either. He made 640 runs with a highest of 254 in the domestic season preceding the inaugural IPL - albeit in the Plate division.
His ability to excel across formats convinced selectors to take a chance on him. When A teams from Australia and New Zealand came over later that year for a 50-over tri-series, he was part of a strong Indian squad that included the likes of Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, both Pathan brothers and Subramaniam Badrinath. While Yusuf Pathan, his Royals team-mate, capitalised to the tune of 270 runs in five matches, Asnodkar managed 23 in his three outings.
Run out twice and struggling against opposition much superior to any he had faced in the national arena, he was dropped before the final league game. Since then the story has been one of steady decline. When the IPL shifted to South Africa in 2009, he got eight games and scored just 98. Last season, when Naman Ojha did what he had once done, Asnodkar's two outings saw him make five runs.
When the panel of five, MS Dhoni and perhaps Duncan Fletcher assemble to discuss the limited-overs squads for the tour of West Indies, Asnodkar - whose only IPL match of the year has produced nine runs - will not be one of the names bandied about. Neither will Paul Valthaty's, despite the headlines generated by two remarkable back-to-back innings.
Back in 2008, seduced by Lalit Modi's claims about the league being at the cutting edge of cricketing excellence, the selectors got carried away. Manpreet Gony was given a go, despite an average first-class record, and a year later Abhishek Nayar was taken to the West Indies. Before that there was an opportunity for poor Ravindra Jadeja, one of Warne's "rock stars", to become the scapegoat for irate Indian fans as the team crashed out of the World Twenty20.
It's not just the selectors who have learnt the hard way. In the midst of a troubled Champions Trophy campaign in 2009 - the agony before the ecstacy of 2011 - Dhoni, usually the exemplar of calm, snapped at a reporter who questioned Rohit Sharma's omission from the squad, while citing his run-scoring feats in the IPL. The gist of his terse reply was that the IPL was not a benchmark for 50-over selection.
It's not just Indian players who have struggled to bridge the divide between the IPL and international cricket. Kieron Pollard has yet to prove Michael Holding wrong on the big stage against decent opposition. Tanvir never managed to hold down a place in Pakistan's XI, despite the churning caused by bans and scandals.
Is there any reason to believe that someone will leap across the chasm this year and take the international arena by storm? Not really. People often cite Yusuf Pathan as an IPL success story. But while it was his big-hitting heroics for the Royals that made him a household name, those on the circuit were aware of him long before that. For a batsman who plays in that unfettered fashion, his first-class numbers are impressive.
One likely debutant in the West Indies is Ambati Rayudu. But again, the IPL has only resuscitated his career. He was marked for special things long before that, with even the likes of Sunil Gavaskar praising him at the National Cricket Academy nearly a decade ago. Unlike Valthaty, he has a first-class resume as well.
So while the fans of their respective franchises clamour for the likes of Rahul Sharma and Iqbal Abdulla to be included in the touring squad, the selectors are far more likely to give first preference to those who have done their time on the fringes. If it comes down to a choice between Badrinath and Valthaty, or Abdulla and Pragyan Ojha, it's a no-brainer.
While the expansion to 10 teams has seen a drop in quality in the IPL - there simply aren't that many exceptional cricketers - it has also enhanced young Indian players' chances of getting noticed. With 70 locals guaranteed starting places in each round of matches, no one can cite lack of opportunity as an excuse.
What they must be wary of is of going the Asnodkar way. A season or two of the IPL may set you up for life financially, but unless it's backed by prodigious feats in other forms of the game, bigger honours are not going to find you.
Most of all, though, whether a player makes it or not depends entirely on how well they cope with the sophomore blues. According to Kumar Sangakkara, one of the few to have mastered all three formats, one of the biggest lessons that international cricket teaches you is adaptability.
"The first year is easy," he says. "Teams don't have a plan for you and you tend to slip under the radar. Then the fields start to change. You find all your scoring routes blocked and you think: 'How the hell will I score runs now?' I had to go back to the nets and re-tool my game."
Those who can will flourish. Others, like the forgotten Asnodkar, will have to be content with their Andy Warhol minutes.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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