May 10, 2013

Three to watch

As ever, the IPL has thrown up a few notable young players. Here's a look at the pick of this year's crop

The IPL trophy has a wonderful line inscribed on it. "Where talent meets opportunity," it says, and it is a thought I wish many institutions believed in.

But what the IPL can do is to provide the platform, offer the opportunity; it cannot do more. It is up to talent to make the most of the meeting provided. And year upon year, we look at people who might have made the most of the opportunity. Players have looked promising, even dazzled briefly, but haven't always managed to repeat their success, and that, really, is the true determinant of class.

Ability in Twenty20 need not translate into success at one-day cricket, let alone in Test cricket, but what it must do, at the very least, is to ensure repeat performances in T20 cricket. That is what players like Siddharth Trivedi and Rajat Bhatia do, and that is admirable enough.

Given that, and given that teams have now played three quarters of their games, I am happy to put forward my nominations for the year. I am picking three players whom I hope I will see a lot more of in the days ahead. They have looked very good in T20 cricket but there is something about them that suggests they have a future in the longer forms, and that has been a factor in nominating them.

Amid a crop of young Indian medium-pacers, Mohit Sharma has stood out. At first sight there is little about him that is dramatic: he does not have the prodigious swing of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, not the bounce and vigour that had once marked Ishant Sharma as someone special, nor the obvious pace of Umesh Yadav. You would almost look at him and say: we've seen him before. But game after game, he has bowled within the Powerplay overs, has bowled to some of the world's best, and has been in the contest.

His first-class record is impressive (44 wickets from 11 Ranji Trophy games and good economy rates in one-day and T20 cricket) and, at 24, he is now the right age for a new-ball bowler. There is a bunch of those at the moment and almost all of them have been erratic, and that is a cautionary signal (top of mind: MS Gony, Jaydev Unadkat, Shami Ahmed, Dhawal Kulkarni, Sudeep Tyagi). Last year Harshal Patel of RCB looked impressive, and Siddarth Kaul has looked good in the few opportunities he has had, but Mohit Sharma has been consistent and his captain, MS Dhoni, is not one to pick players idly.

I must confess I am more excited about the next two. There is something about a legspinner that makes you stop and watch. Even in a community the members of which must have a trick up their sleeve every time, the legspinner stands apart because he plies a difficult trade. He must have turn, he must get bounce; nip off the track is a basic necessity; he must bowl the googly and the straight ball, whether flipper or topspinner (or both ideally). It is not a profession you would recommend to most, and so most good legspinners must revel in the challenge. Karan Sharma looks like he does too.

Ability in T20 need not translate into success at one-day cricket, let alone in Test cricket, but what it must do, at the very least, is to ensure repeat performances in T20 cricket

His is a busy action and it contributes to every delivery and he makes batsmen hurry their shots. But most important, he seems to have the big legbreak. I am exercising caution here because you don't get to see enough in T20, where you don't get to set up a batsman as much; but there is great ability there.* Indian cricket will let itself down if Karan is allowed to get lost.

And then, this young kid from Kerala. There is a boyishness to Sanju Samson that is somehow rare in 18-year-olds. There is a bravado in him that is characteristic of his age, and which you saw in his innings of 63 from 41 balls in a chase of 171 against Royal Challengers. But he is also intelligent enough to adapt, and I particularly enjoyed his 36-ball 40 on a slow track at Eden Gardens against Knight Riders. And then he came out at No. 6 in a tough chase against Pune Warriors in Jaipur. Twenty-nine were needed from 17 balls in a must-win game and even two or three balls poorly played could have shifted the balance.

Brad Hodge had just been out to Wayne Parnell and as Samson took guard I wondered if his captain was asking just a bit too much of him. Then he played a cover drive off the first ball and in our commentary box there was a collective gasp. He had played it easily, like he was plucking a flower. Everything about the shot was right; a master would have been proud to have played it, and in the context of the game it was exceptional. One shot doesn't tell you a story, and we must be conscious of that, but it can point to more, and that is why I will be turning to the scorecard every time Kerala play next year. I can see why Rahul Dravid has said Samson has a long way to go (expectation and too much attention can ruin talent) and that is a judgement we must respect, but this kid can bat!

Right, then, those are my three names. Hopefully they will be better next year, hopefully they will be free of injury, and hopefully they can keep their focus on what has been good for them so far. As for us, we can only wait and see.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. He is currently contracted to the BCCI. His Twitter feed is here

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