May 25, 2012

Six Indian IPL players to watch out for

Four young batsmen and two medium-pacers should be on the selectors' radar

If you wanted to use the word-association game to profile the IPL you would probably get "hectic", "spectacle", "in-the-news" (even if that isn't strictly one word). To think longer would be to become analytical, which isn't the objective. First thoughts are the key here and these are not bad for a young, ambitious, in-your-face league that enthralls, sometimes alienates, and which no one can ignore.

In the end the IPL has to be a cricket tournament. If IPL 15 and IPL 25, or for that matter IPL 50, have to exist, they have to be constructed on a strong cricket base. The great leagues of the world have their share of drama and scandal around them, but they are remembered by the quality of the action they produce. Tabloid reporters swarm around but the serious writers find them worthwhile too; irrelevant starlets seek to worm their way in but the superstars play on the field too.

The cricket was very good this year; it began acquiring a rhythm of its own. But it must necessarily be seen as a distinct entity, not as - depending on which way you look at it - a glamorous or scheming cousin of the traditional game. It will be a challenge for the IPL to keep an increasing tribe of wannabes at arm's length and prevent them from hijacking the image of a sporting contest.

The IPL also needs to be an indicator of India's cricketing depth, for it allows many young players, some completely unknown, to play on the big stage. The Ranji Trophy should do that too, but it doesn't pit a young man against an international star; it cannot throw up comparisons, contrasts.

So who caught the eye in this year's IPL? There are four young men among the top 20 batsmen (as at the time of writing) who we should be talking a bit more about. At No. 3 is Shikhar Dhawan, who has promised much over the years but has rarely embraced consistency - the quality that separates the best from those who occasionally flash by. But he is a powerful batsman and if he can just be a bit more involved in the deep, he can become a far better fielder.

If you pick horses for courses, and in Twenty20 you must, he has to be in a shortlist. As indeed should Ajinkya Rahane, who is No. 4. For two or three years there was a feeling that he wasn't cut out for instant cricket, but he has adapted brilliantly, and if anything, needs to be careful not to allow this style to infect his chances in the longer versions, which he seems more naturally cut out for. For Rahane managing different formats will be a challenge, but it is one only the best are entitled to have.

Ambati Rayudu was down at No. 20, possibly because of his batting position, but he enhanced his reputation. For some reason Indian cricket doesn't seem too inclined to embrace him, but surely a place should have been found for him on the India A tour to the West Indies.

If Rayudu's time has to be now, there is another whose time may well come if he continues his impressive progress. Like Rahane, who got a whole tournament to play in with the Rajasthan Royals, Mandeep Singh benefited from being in a team with fewer stars. He is another one the selectors should be taking note of.

Mayank Agarwal and Naman Ojha had their moments. Agarwal is a clean hitter but I suspect he needs another dimension to his game; Ojha seems a fair contender to the likes of Dinesh Karthik and Robin Uthappa for the second wicketkeeper's slot for the World T20. I wish we could have seen more of Wriddhiman Saha. It might be in his interests to be loaned to another team, for young talent must play (talking of which, it is a good idea to introduce the concept of "loaning" in the IPL).

Umesh Yadav looked very impressive because he has pace, but to me there were two other bowlers who demanded attention. Parvinder Awana who, by some power, known or otherwise, has to be on that A tour. It would be criminal to deny him that experience and the opportunity to showcase himself. And the ever-smiling L Balaji has showed that if the selectors are willing to pick horses for courses for the World T20 in Sri Lanka, he must be in.

Left-arm spinners flooded the IPL. Either there has been a bumper harvest or a new hypothesis around them. And either as a consequence, or for a deeper reason hitherto unexplored, they cannibalised the offspinner, who is only rarely sighted these days.

The overall fielding standard among Indian cricketers in the IPL was a little disheartening. With the likes of Kieron Pollard, Faf du Plessis and Dwayne Bravo showing the way, I would like to believe more young people would be drawn to this still under-regarded aspect in Indian cricket.

And so to my one wish for IPL 6. That it stays on the back page.

Harsha Bhogle is contracted to the IPL. He also commentates on other cricket, and is a television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here