May 13, 2011

The class of '11

This year's IPL hasn't thrown up as many new names as in the past, but there have been a fair few who have caught attention

Apart from expensive overseas players, team owners, television ratings and a veneer of glamour, the IPL is also an opportunity for players to be seen. To be honest, I would like a little more of that and a little less of the fluff (though the balance is significantly better now than in past seasons), because eventually this is a cricket tournament; it is still bat and ball locked in combat.

And so, a few young Indian players have managed to drag attention towards themselves. But if you were a stock picker, if you were looking for flowers blushing unseen in the desert air, you will have been disappointed. One of the conclusions of this year's IPL is that there aren't enough quality Indian players to fill 10 teams. But there were some, even beyond the two who immediately caught the eye.

Paul Valthaty's biggest achievement was that he showed he wasn't a one-innings player. At this level you can get sorted out quickly - even though the best opposition bowler may get no more than two overs at a time - but Valthaty showed consistency. With his style he is always going to have less productive periods, where suddenly top edges might start going to fielders and inside edges onto stumps, but he tries and he has some grit about him. He is one of the nice things to have happened to the IPL; if they wanted to make a corporate film, they could feature him.

Rahul Sharma has passed a stern test. He bowled against pedigree and against sloggers and held his own. In spite of the Anil Kumble phenomenon, we are still accustomed to looking for flight and turn in spinners, not nip and bounce. Hence the better first impression that Amit Mishra makes. But this young man gets the ball to hurry and hits the top of the stump, not the base. I would love to see him bowl 10 overs against a quality batting side to see how they handle him. I don't think that is too far away.

Elsewhere, left-arm seamers were impressive. Venkatesh Prasad spoke highly of Sreenath Aravind and you could see why, and I must say I quite enjoyed watching Shrikant Wagh swing it back in to the right-handers. While I had seen Jaidev Unadkat on and off before, this season was the first time I saw a mean and well-directed bouncer from him. He is going to a great finishing school, travelling with Wasim Akram, which leads to me to wonder why we can't have such things as a matter of course. A prize for Rahul Sharma would be to spend five days with Anil Kumble, learning not just how to bowl but what goes into bowling. There was much to be said in favour of the old guru-shishya style of education.

Abu Nachim and Dhawal Kulkarni had their moments, and we must watch Varun Aaron closely. Like Ishant Sharma he is a fast bowler, but he must not imagine he is anything else - the trap Ishant fell into briefly. Few people have it in them to bowl quick, and as Aaron improves as an athlete, he will bowl quicker.

There were two other players I was hoping to see more of but couldn't: Ashok Dinda and Umesh Yadav. But I did see enough of Irfan Pathan and was delighted at his return. Predictably he looked rusty - you cannot dust away 10 months of inaction - but as the IPL went along, the swing returned. The more he bowls, the better he will get, and India must find some way of getting him to play as much cricket as he can.

Iqbal Abdulla will play bigger and better cricket. His height allows him to toss the ball up, and he is a fair turner of the ball. There is word that he can bat, but we haven't seen enough of that ability at this level. He only has to look towards the excellent Pragyan Ojha to realise why batting tends to get valued even if you are a bowler. In an era where fewer and fewer left-armers turn the ball, Abdulla was good to see. It is the same with Shadab Jakati.

Kolkata looks like it can throw up another batsman. Manoj Tiwary is driving in a very crowded lane at the moment, with Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, S Badrinath, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina already battling for spots. But if you wanted to take a closer look at two quality domestic performers, you wouldn't look further than Tiwary and the very stylish Ajinkya Rahane. Sadly we didn't get to see enough of Abhinav Mukund; maybe that should wait another day.

Twenty-over cricket is a very short time in which to catch someone's eye, and to be honest, results can be misleading. That is why these names need to play 50-overs cricket, play in an atmosphere that demands more than Twenty20 does. That exists and is called the A tour, and we need to see much more of it.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here