IPL: Where young talents sprout, mushroom and then explode
It’s what the likes of Ayush Badoni and Tilak Verma (in pic), Abhinav Manohar and Anuj Rawat have done – and are threatening to do – which is much more gripping, interesting, pregnant with possibilities.

IPL: Where young talents sprout, mushroom and then explode

Talent scouting is among the most significant of all exercises undertaken by Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises in their bid to put the perfect, winning team together. These scouts scour the length and the breadth of the country, looking beyond scores and strike rates and boundary percentages as they traverse the domestic circuit, desperately hunting for the X-factor that separates the men from the boys.

Actually, strike the last part. This is not about men and boys; this is about buttoning down resources that can maximise time spent in the middle. The endless quest is for young (or not-so-young) Indian batsmen, those who can bat in the middle to lower-middle order, bat without a care in the world, not be intimidated by names and reputations, and who have fine-tuned the art of ball-bashing.

Most of these scouts hardly hog the limelight. They are sought after in the lead-up to an IPL season when the interest in how these men go about their business peaks. But mainly, they are happy being in the shadows, the almost-invisible individuals whose role becomes redundant during the course of the tournament.

These scouts range from domestic first-class cricketers to former international captains and coaches, such as John Wright. It’s no secret that the one-time New Zealand skipper’s greatest contribution to Indian cricket, apart from instilling the first iota of professionalism as coach at the start of the millennium, is Jasprit Bumrah, whom he spotted in the anonyms of local cricket and welcomed into the Mumbai Indians family, from where Bumrah has gone from strength to astonishing strength.

Each year, with the IPL imminent, there is massive interest among the game’s stakeholders about what the tournament holds. Who are the new guys who will throw their hats in the ring? Will India’s quest for – lest we should lose sight, the primary objective of this league is to showcase, nurture and promote Indian talent – a medium-paced all-rounder finally end? Who will be the next unabashed destroyer of egos and bowling attacks? Who has the mystery weapons, the wicked actions, the spectacular yorkers?

With clockwork precision, every season throws up names that immediately warrant a larger platform. That’s how, within weeks of playing a principal role in Kolkata Knight Riders’ Phoenix-like rise from the ashes last year when they went from the second bottom to a runner-up finish, Venkatesh Iyer was donning India colours. And Ravi Bishnoi was pressing for national selection after lighting up the stage with Punjab Kings.

Season 15 of the IPL is less than a week old, but already, a few early contenders who fit this bill have made their presence felt. True, proven names have been stellar performers – Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Umesh Yadav, Faf du Plessis, Andre Russell have all had their moments, but they’ve already been there and done that, haven’t they?

It’s what the likes of Ayush Badoni and Tilak Verma, Abhinav Manohar and Anuj Rawat have done – and are threatening to do – which is much more gripping, interesting, pregnant with possibilities. This might seem like a motley bunch that hasn’t done enough to warrant attention, but as everyone and their gardener will tell us, there is no such thing as enough when it comes to 20-over cricket. This isn’t a format that measures a batsman’s value on the volume of runs, which is precisely why the Orange Cap in its present avatar must go. For a league that has been quick to embrace the innovative and the common-sensical, it’s unbecoming to place emphasis on the leading scorer of the competition when the strike rate is the most crucial aspect of T20 cricket. But that’s an entirely different topic altogether.

Also read: Umesh, Russell fire in time to help Kolkata score easy win over Punjab

Let’s just look at the aforementioned quartet. Badoni, the right-hander from Delhi, is 22 and played for India Under-19 more than two and a half years back, though he missed out on the World Cup in 2020 on account of age ineligibility. He did more than enough to impress Rahul Dravid and WV Raman, among others, but despite their inputs, Delhi’s selectors chose to overlook him. Badoni has only played five games for his state, batting once and that too at No. 7. In normal course, he shouldn’t be anywhere near the IPL. But that’s precisely the beauty and the charm of the IPL, isn’t it?

The arrival of two new franchises meant more indigenous talent would get a look-in, but Badoni isn’t there only on that count. The talent scouts at Lucknow Super Giants liked what they saw of the young man, and Badoni hasn’t disappointed. In his first two matches, he’s made 54 and an unbeaten 19, both under pressure, both with such authority and calmness and class and poise that one would be hard pressed to guess he’s in his first year of franchise cricket.

Like Badoni, the other three newcomers have shown nerves of steel and temperament that doesn’t come to everyone. Verma is also a former Under-19 star from Hyderabad and while he has been there and thereabouts in domestic cricket, he hasn’t got the breaks that, say, an Abdul Samad or a Riyan Parag have. His left-handedness is a bonus to go with his composure and as he plays more alongside India captain Rohit Sharma at Mumbai Indians, his education is only going to get a fillip.

Also read: IPL 2022: Who is ‘360-degree’ player Ayush Badoni?

Ditto for Anuj Rawat, who is with du Plessis and Virat Kohli at Royal Challengers Bangalore and looks the part from the early exchanges. Abhinav is no babe in the woods – he is 27 and only made his debut for Karnataka four and a half months back – but he is an astonishing smasher of the cricket ball who needs little time to get in, as he showed the other night for Gujarat Titans against Lucknow.

These four are the early standard-bearers, and more of those with stars in their eyes and desire in their heart are bound to breakthrough in the weeks to come. For Indian cricket’s sake, it’s up to these individuals and their franchises to ensure they don’t become flashes in the pan if the IPL is to achieve its avowed objective – of unearthing and promoting indigenous brilliance.

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