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The IPL trophy has a wonderful line inscribed on it. “Where talent meets opportunity” it says and it is a thought I wish many institutions believed in. But what the IPL can do is to provide the platform, offer the opportunity, it cannot do more. It is, then, up to talent to make the most of the meeting provided. And year upon year, we look at people who might have made the most of the opportunity. It is an interesting exercise to carry out but it is no indicator of permanence. Players have looked promising, even dazzled briefly, but haven’t always managed to repeat their success and that, really, is the true determinant of class. Ability at T20 need not translate into success at one-day cricket, let alone in test cricket, but what it must do, at the very least, is to ensure repeat performances in T20 cricket. That is what players like Siddharth Trivedi and Rajat Bhatia do and that is admirable enough.
Given that, and given that teams have now played three quarters of their games, I am happy to put forward my nominations for the year. I am picking three players that I hope I will see a lot more of in the days ahead. They have looked very good in T20 cricket but there is something about them that suggests they have a future in the longer forms and that has been a factor in nominating them.
Amidst a crop of young Indian medium pacers, Mohit Sharma has stood out. At first sight there is little about him that is dramatic; not the prodigious swing of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, not the bounce and vigour that had once marked Ishant Sharma as someone special, nor even the obvious pace of Umesh Yadav. You would almost look at him and say, we’ve seen him before. But game after game, he has bowled within the power play overs, has bowled to some of the world’s best and has been in the contest. His first class record is impressive (44 wickets from 11 Ranji Trophy games and good economy rates in one-day and T20 cricket) and, at 24, he is now the right age for a new ball bowler. There is a bunch of those at the moment and almost all of them have been erratic and that is a cautionary signal (top of mind: MS Gony, Jaydev Unadkat, Shami Ahmad, Dhawal Kulkarni, Sudeep Tyagi.). Last year Harshal Patel of RCB had looked impressive and Siddharth Kaul has looked good in the few opportunities he has had but Mohit Sharma has been consistent and his captain, MS Dhoni, is not one to pick players idly.
I must confess I am more excited about the other two. There is something about a leg spinner that makes you stop and watch. Even amongst a community that must have a trick up its sleeve everytime, the leg spinner stands apart because he plies a difficult trade. He must have turn, he must get bounce, nip off the track is a basic necessity, he must bowl the googly and the straight ball, whether flipper or top spinner (or both ideally!). It is not a profession you would recommend to most and so most good leg spinners must revel in the challenge. Karan Sharma looks like he does too. His is a busy action and it contributes to every delivery and he makes batsmen hurry their shots. But most important, he seems to have the big leg break and I am exercising caution here because you don’t get to see enough in T20, where you don’t get to set up a batsman as much. But there is great ability there and, dare I say, pretty good pedigree too with his father, Vinod Sharma, being a successful coach with the Railways where players have to make the best of what they have. Indian cricket will let itself down if he is allowed to get lost.
And then, this young kid from Kerala. There is a boyishness to Sanju Samson that is so rare in 18 year olds. There is a bravado in him that is characteristic of his age and which you saw in his innings of 63 from 41 balls in a run chase of 171 against the Royal Challengers. But he is also intelligent enough to adapt and I particularly enjoyed his 36 ball 40 on a slow track at the Eden Gardens against the Knight Riders. And then he came out at number 6 in a tough run chase against the Pune Warriors at Jaipur. 29 were needed from 17 balls in a must-win game and even two or three balls poorly played could have shifted the balance. Brad Hodge had just been out to Wayne Parnell and, to be honest, as he took guard, I wondered if his captain was asking just a bit too much of him. Then he played a cover drive off the first ball and in our commentary box there was a collective gasp. He had played it easily, like he was plucking a flower, but in effect he had hit the high notes like he was a seasoned veteran. Everything about the shot was right, a master would have been proud to have played it and in the context of the game it was exceptional. One shot doesn’t tell you a story, and we must be conscious of that, but it can point to more and that is why I will be turning to the scorecard everytime Kerala play next year. I can see why Rahul Dravid has said he has a long way to go (expectation and too much attention can ruin talent) and that is a judgement we must respect but ...this kid can bat!
Right then, those are my three names. Hopefully they will be better next year, hopefully they will be free of injury and hopefully they can keep their focus on what has been good for them so far. As for us, we can only wait and see.