May 23, 2013

How to turn from a nobody into an IPL star

Apart from plenty of luck, you need to pick your team wisely, bat at the top and have your captain's support

The IPL is a platform that many believe has the ability to catapult a young player's career to great heights. Smashing 30 balls or bowling 24 good balls can turn a nobody's fortunes around overnight.

I've consoled, though with little success, many fine cricketers who, despite good first-class performances, missed the IPL bus. I sympathise with those who miss out on the IPL, but I also feel for many domestic cricketers who, in spite of impressing the IPL scouts and getting contracts, don't end up gaining much. An IPL contract doesn't always translate into a ticket to stardom. For a young Indian player, especially if he happens to be a batsman, success in the league comes only if he ticks a few boxes.

Bat in the top four
Unless the pitch has a lot in it for the bowlers, your top six batsmen won't each get an equal share of the 120 balls in an innings. It's the top four who get the lion's share, including the lucrative Powerplay overs. Only when they fail do the rest get a look in.

Now, if the young Indian batsman in question isn't a top-order batsman, the chances are that on an average he'll face no more than 15 balls. While some will argue that 15 balls are enough to show glimpses of your ability, you have to bear in mind that the only way to succeed in the death overs is to play fearless cricket, which stems from feeling secure about your spot in the side. If a player's IPL career depends on a couple of innings, which is mostly the case with young Indian recruits, he will struggle to strike the fine balance between playing for the team and for himself. Most of these players end up doing the former, thus ending up sacrificing their own interests.

Play for a relatively weaker team
Since the most successful batsmen in T20 are the ones who bat at the top, all big teams fill those spots with either quality overseas players or proven Indian Test or ODI recruits. It's unlikely that Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings, Delhi Daredevils or Royal Challengers Bangalore will give a young Indian batsman a decent run at the top. Generally in these teams a young Indian batsman is only a couple of failures away from being axed. But that isn't the case with the less-fancied teams, for they don't have big overseas or Indian names to occupy key positions. Sanju Samson, Mandeep Singh, Hanuma Vihari, Manan Vohra and the like do not only get ample opportunities but are also getting to bat at the right spots in the order. So playing for a weaker unit is a blessing in disguise for a young Indian batsman.

Having the captain's backing
While there aren't many uncapped Indian batsmen who have made a lasting impression, Indian bowlers like Siddharth Trivedi, Rajat Bhatia and Shahbaz Nadeem have done well to merit a place in the starting XI regularly. Since five bowlers bowl the 20 overs, the captain has the luxury of using the domestic players in slightly low-pressure situations. The overs between seven and 14 are ideal for an inexperienced bowler to slip in his quota, and that's when most captains use these bowlers. But the nature of T20 is such that every bowler goes for plenty now and then. That's when you need your captain's full support or you'll never be brave enough to express yourself freely.

MS Dhoni has handled Mohit Sharma brilliantly in this IPL. If Jaspreet Bumrah, Abu Nachim, Rishi Dhawan, Pankaj Singh, and Ankit Rajput are shown the door after only one or two failures, they will never blossom into good T20 bowlers.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here