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Feature

IPL 2022: Five players who have gone from being back-ups to certainties

Umesh Yadav, Shahbaz Ahmed, Shivam Dube and others who have impressed despite not being sure starters leading into the season

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
24-Apr-2022
A look at five players who may not have been sure starters leading into IPL 2022 but have proven to be vital cogs for their teams by the halfway stage of the season.
Umesh Yadav
Role: Powerplay specialist
It wasn't until the accelerated rounds, right at the end of the mega auction in February, that Umesh Yadav found a team at his base price of INR 2 crore (approx USD 260,000). Kolkata Knight Riders, with whom he won the IPL in 2014 and played until 2017, raised the paddle to boost their bowling stocks. But what were his chances of featuring regularly? At Delhi Capitals, even Avesh Khan, uncapped at the time, had pipped him to be the third seamer behind Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada. Here, Knight Riders had picked Shivam Mavi as their first-choice seamer. But the unavailability of Pat Cummins and Tim Southee meant there was an opening. Enter Umesh, and he has taken the powerplay by storm. Five games in, he surged to being the second-highest wicket-taker in this period with six wickets and an economy of 5.77. Those numbers have somewhat dwindled over the last three games, but that he has gone from being a back-up to being the front and centre of their pace-bowling plans speaks of his improvement.
Kuldeep Yadav
Role: Middle-overs strangler
From being wrapped in cotton wool in 2014 to being released by Knight Riders in 2021, Kuldeep Yadav's career has seen every possible twist and turn. He was no longer the bowler teams yearned for. Injuries didn't help his case either. The flight went missing. The bite had disappeared. He was pushing them through flatter. Varun Chakravarthy's emergence pushed him down the pecking order and eventually out of the squad. Delhi Capitals were among two teams to bid for him, and eventually signed him at INR 2 crore (approx USD 260,000). He has featured in every game so far and is third in the race for the purple cap. At Capitals, he feels at home and enjoys the feeling of being a key spinner once again. The revs on the ball are back, he's not afraid of tossing it up and being hit, and as a result, it's coming out of his hand beautifully. As it happened, his best performance - 4 for 35 in an exhibition from the Kuldeep of old - came against his former team.
Aiden Markram
Role: Dependable No. 4
Doubts over his place in the Test side had pushed Aiden Markram to the edge. He was given an ultimatum by Dean Elgar, the Test captain. He had become a walking wicket, confidence at its lowest ebb. But the change of format, a bit of freedom and a new environment has led to a transformation. He has emerged as Sunrisers Hyderabad's dependent No. 4 even when striking at 150.79. His 190 runs so far, including a best of 68*, have helped Sunrisers surge to five straight wins. He is one of the reasons why Sunrisers have the best average (49.85) among all the middle orders (Nos 4-7) this season. In the absence of a designated frontline spinner, now with Washington Sundar also ruled out temporarily because of an injury, Markram has given Kane Williamson an added bowling option too.
Shahbaz Ahmed
Role: Batting allrounder
Shahbaz Ahmed is a batter who can bowl handy left-arm spin, and not the other way round. Those in the Bengal set-up believe he's good enough to be a top-six batter in red-ball cricket but hasn't been able to do so only because of the make-up of the squad. He has only been sparingly used with the ball but has held his end most times. He can give you an over to two in the powerplay. If there's some bite on offer, he has been summoned in the middle overs, especially to play with the long leg-side boundaries to get batters hitting against the turn. With the bat, he has been an aggressor who has managed to not just bring out the big shots but hold one end up to allow the likes of Dinesh Karthik to tee off, like he did against Capitals. While Karthik made a sensational 34-ball 66 not out, Shahbaz's contribution was an equally important 21-ball 32 not out in a 97-run stand that turned the game around. He started at Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2020, where opportunities were far and few. Over time, Royal Challengers had seen enough of him to put in a bid. And so far, he has justified his inclusion.
Shivam Dube
Role: Six-hitter
Three significant scores as a six-hitter, including an unbeaten 95 against his former franchise. Can it get sweeter? Shivam Dube has brought with him refreshing clarity as a batter that was missing until this season. That he was playing for his third IPL franchise in three seasons tells you a story of unfulfilled potential. At Royal Challengers, he was the designated finisher expected to take the pressure off AB de Villiers. That was enough pressure to contend with even without facing a ball. At Royals, he was given a middle-order role, expected to take the innings deep before teeing off. At Chennai Super Kings, he has been given license to bat freely, and this seems to have helped him with his shot selection. He lines up bowlers, plays to the field and has shown impeccable timing. He has struggled with the ball though, especially in the death. That 25-run 19th over against Lucknow Super Giants with 34 needed is a blot in what has otherwise been a coming-of-age season.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo