The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy has always attracted attention from IPL franchises on the prowl for domestic T20 talent. But the tournament this year is doubly significant for several players, considering even the T20 World Cup will be played in India later this year. And then there are some of the old hands, who would want to prove that experience still matters in the shortest format. Following is a shortlist of players for whom success in the tournament could mean bigger things in the future.
Why he has not played for India in T20Is is a common refrain from pundits. Yadav has opened the innings, batted at No. 3 and even played the role of a finisher in T20 cricket. One moment, he is finding ways to keep the runs ticking; he is playing inventive strokes at another - remember his reverse ramp for six off Jofra Archer in Abu Dhabi? Yadav's 410 runs in 13 innings in IPL 2020 at a strike rate of 150 was his third straight 400-plus season for the Mumbai Indians. It's this mix of the inventive with his industrious batting that India's new selection panel may be excited by, especially if Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey - both nursing injuries at the moment - are ruled out of the T20Is against England in March. Yadav, 30, will hope a good Mushtaq Ali Trophy keeps his dream of playing for the country alive despite age not being on his side.
Raina's controversial departure from the UAE on the eve of IPL 2020 has remained a mystery, although he cited personal reasons for returning home. In his absence, the Chennai Super Kings never managed to fill the role Raina has performed with the bat in the middle order. But will the franchise retain him? Raina's previous competitive game of any kind was over 18 months ago during the IPL final in 2019. But he now has a second chance as he represents Uttar Pradesh in the Mushtaq Ali Trophy. With IPL sides having until January 21 to submit their list of retentions, a good league phase - which finishes on January 19 - could give the Super Kings and Raina some encouragement.
An off-spinning allrounder, Gowtham defended 13 to help Karnataka clinch a last-ball thriller against Tamil Nadu in last year's Mushtaq Ali final. His USP: Gowtham can bowl in the middle overs as well as with the new ball, and as batsman, a strike rate of 162 validates his billing as a lower-order power-hitter. Ask Jasprit Bumrah, who Gowtham clinically took apart to make 33 not out off 11 balls to win an improbable match in IPL 2018. But unfortunately for Gowtham, such performances have been far and few. In the previous IPL, he played just two matches for the Kings XI Punjab while also being expensive, leaking runs at above ten an over. With Karnataka missing Mayank Agarwal due to India duty, and with KL Rahul and Pandey injured, Gowtham's experience will be key to a young side looking to defend their crown.
Seldom has an uncapped Indian cricketer - one who hasn't even been part of either India A or the Under-19 side before - received the kind of attention and adulation as Rahul Tewatia has. His IPL heroics for the Rajashtan Royals in Sharjah last IPL catapulted him into instant stardom, with his popularity - both on social media and among cricket experts - soaring to unprecedented heights. Tewatia is a powerful ball-striker, as those five sixes off Sheldon Cottrell showed. He is also an electric fielder and can fill in with a good few overs of legspin. Tewatia was the Royals' second-highest wicket-taker in IPL 2020, while his economy rate of 7.25 was second to only Archer. Another good Mushtaq Ali Trophy - after respectable success in the 2019-20 edition - and consistency in the IPL could mean the possibilities are endless. Can Tewatia force his way as a left-field all-round pick in India's wider pool of probables for the T20 World Cup?
Since 2018, he hasn't quite risen to the heights of that spectacular Nidhas Trophy final night, but Dinesh Karthik remains among the best finishers in India's domestic circuit. Form wasn't on his side during IPL 2020, which may have contributed to him handing over the Kolkata Knight Riders captaincy to Eoin Morgan midway through the season. Karthik's struggles in the UAE could have been down to not having a fixed role in the batting order. However, bio-bubble restrictions and the need to pick jumbo squads in a pandemic world means he will continue to attract the selectors, especially with India still looking for designated finishers beyond Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja. Last season, 301 runs in 12 innings couldn't quite deliver the title for Tamil Nadu. But Karthik will have the luxury of a fixed spot as captain for them. Can that translate into runs and glory for Tamil Nadu while also boosting his India prospects?
He hit the most sixes (29) in IPL 2020, three more than Sanju Samson, his nearest competitor. However, unlike Samson, whose form tailed off after an impressive start, Ishan Kishan married game smarts to an already explosive game to finish with 516 runs - the fifth-highest in the tournament - in a victorious IPL 2020 season for Mumbai. Moreover, those runs were struck at 145.76. And though Kishan doesn't keep wickets in the IPL, he does that job for his state team Jharkhand, whom he will also be leading at this year's edition. With Samson not having capitalised on opportunities and Rishabh Pant also currently out of the frame of India's limited-overs set-up, the national selectors may want to widen their wicketkeeping net as they build towards the T20 World Cup. Kishan is at best a batsman-keeper, but has improved considerably, having spent time with Kiran More and MS Dhoni. As much as his explosive batting, his glove work will be keenly watched too.
When Jadhav had made his India debut in 2014, he was renowned for scoring quickly but his strike rates have dropped alarmingly since. During IPL 2020, he was ridiculed on social media, and even called 'scooter' by former India captain and national selector Krishnamachari Srikanth for being unable to turn strike. Five outings for the Super Kings yielded a mere 62 runs, and thus Jadhav was dropped midway. His stocks have plummeted since India's 2019 World Cup exit. At 35, Jadhav isn't an ODI regular anymore but now has a chance at the Mushtaq Ali Trophy to prove he still has a last lap or two both for India and at the IPL. Like many others, Jadhav will need performances of note to put himself up in the frame to be picked up at the mini-auction should the Super Kings release him to free up INR 7.8 crores from their auction purse.
Bolt upright seam, late swing, bristling pace, snarls, stares - qualities we know of Sreesanth from 2013. Now pushing 37, he is coming back into the fold after seven years, following the Supreme Court downsizing the severity of his life ban. Sreesanth has been slowly been reintegrated into the Kerala set-up since June last year, when he first started training with members of the state Under-23 team in Kochi. He was assured of being given a fair run by bowling coach Tinu Yohannan should he comply with the fitness parameters. With Sandeep Warrier moving to Tamil Nadu, Sreesanth's return could lend experience and immense skill to a young Kerala pace attack. Can he play the role of a senior statesman?
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo