In his first over
in international cricket, Krunal Pandya
was hit for ten runs, including a six, by Kieron Pollard. In his second over he gave away two runs and saw the back of Pollard. Pandya conceded only three more runs in his remaining two overs, and had an impressive outing with the ball overall in spite of the bad start.
When he came out to bat, India had had an unlikely collapse in their chase of a small total. Off the second ball he faced, Pandya played a cheeky reverse-paddle for a boundary, his first in international cricket, and then followed it up with a late cut, hit to the same area for the same result.
The calm with which Pandya went about his business in his first international game told us a lot about his state of mind. This can be termed as "temperament" too. But to assume that Pandya is cut from a different cloth than other young players, and therefore responded calmly to his biggest cricket challenge, would be to do an injustice to the machinery called the Indian Premier League.
While we must give credit to Pandya for his composure (he could possibly be a man who doesn't have nerves, or doesn't show them), it's seldom something you're born with. It's more to do with your conditioning. Even the best have butterflies and big-stage anxiety early on; it's just that some manage to mask it better than others.
The impact the IPL is having on the collective psyche of the next generation of Indian cricketers can't be overstated. T20 cricket in a league as competitive as the IPL can be explained as "execution of high-quality skills under tremendous pressure".
The margin of error is so small in T20 cricket that it's almost impossible for you to carve a decent career without mastering execution. Once in a while, you might get away with missing the mark while bowling a yorker, but if your accuracy is often compromised, it's unlikely you'll be bowling in the death overs for long. It is the same with batsmen and spinners. Unless you have good plans, an uncluttered mind, and the ability to detach yourself from the situation of the match and execute your plans almost perfectly, there's no way you will be a part of any T20 team long term.
There was a time in Indian cricket, not too long ago, when the first day-night game you played in front of a packed house was your first international game. In my limited time at the top, I could relate to the effect a filled and noisy stadium can have your behaviour. In my debut series, against New Zealand, more than once I got ahead of myself because Virender Sehwag was going berserk at the other end, and that had got the crowd on its feet. It created a kind of euphoria that made me momentarily forget my strengths and weaknesses.
Financial security is an important factor that, in a lot of cases, determines the way you respond to opportunities. The lack of it could possibly cage you; the presence of it has the potential to liberate you
The crowds for Test matches are less colourful and vocal than those at the IPL, where every game is played to packed houses, with over-the-top music breaking out at the end of every over, and a host on a very loud public address system pushing the crowd to cheer. The dynamics of a T20 game translate into crowds staying in a frenzy for almost the entire duration of the match. Initially, as a player, it feels like you have been invited to someone else's party but a few games into the tournament you realise that it's your party, your stage.
Now if a young cricketer has already seen all this and more over three or four seasons of the IPL, will the crowd or the electric atmosphere of an international game make him anxious? Add to that the fact that the player you're facing up to - as was the case with Pandya in the game above - is someone you have shared a dressing room with for years. Even if your opponent isn't an IPL team-mate, there's a good chance you have bowled or batted against him in the tournament before. There's not much that has the potential to catch you unawares if you're an IPL veteran - like Rishabh Pant and Kuldeep Yadav are even in their early 20s.
It isn't surprising that the next generation of Indian cricketers are taking to international cricket like fish to water. The attitude with which they go about showcasing their skills is also indicative of how the security provided by the IPL has transformed them into more confident beings.
I'm not from this generation; I'm just putting it out there for your consumption - please make your own assessments. If your livelihood depended on playing only international cricket, would you have the same bravado and play with the same freedom as most young cricketers these days do? Financial security is an important factor that, in a lot of cases, determines the way you respond to opportunities. The lack of it could possibly cage you; the presence of it has the potential to liberate you.
There is a flip side to the influence of the IPL too. While there are many cricketers, like Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep, KL Rahul and so on, who have continued to evolve as their international careers have progressed, there are some who have stagnated too. There's a possibility of some players being satisfied with the talents and skills they have, for those are enough to get them through the two months of the IPL year after year - or so they feel. The urge to improve and evolve to become a better all-round player, who is suited to succeeding in different formats and different conditions is quite personal. In spite of the IPL riches, some players are taking the road less travelled, but others are happy with who they are.
Aakash Chopra is the author of three books, the latest of which is The Insider: Decoding the craft of cricket. @cricketaakash