How IPL continues to unearth hidden gems

Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma with the trophy after winning the IPL 2020. (BCCI)
Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma with the trophy after winning the IPL 2020. (BCCI)

The UAE hosted the world's most famous T20 tournament and also gave the local cricket fraternity a shot in the arm with three players from the UAE earning a chance to train with IPL squads.



By Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Tue 26 Jan 2021, 3:50 PM

Last updated: Tue 26 Jan 2021, 6:21 PM

India's captain Virat Kohli congratulates paceman Thangarasu Natarajan for his first wicket of Australia's Marnus Labuschagne during the third one-day international cricket match between Australia and India at Manuka Oval in Canberra. - AFP

Perhaps, it's not without some irony that the injury-ravaged Indian team's ex­traordinary triumph in the Australia Test Series Down Under had its roots in T20 cricket's showpiece event - the Indian Premier League. Yes, it's the fast-paced world of T20 - a format the purists believe is pos­ing a serious threat to Test cricket's right to exist - had a profound role in India's most unforget­table triumph in the five-day format.

If you still have any doubts, ask yourself this question: could T Natarajan have become a part of India's Test series triumph in Australia if not for the platform given to him by the IPL?

Or for that matter, would Washington Sundar have got a chance to build a match-turning seventh wicket partnership with Shardul Thakur if he had not shown his all-round skills in the Royals Chal­lengers Bangalore colours in the IPL?

These players would not have found a space in the Indian Test squad if not for the myriad injuries suffered by the first-choice players during the Aus­tralia tour.

Having impressed in the limited overs series Down Under after being picked as a net bowler, Natarajan was asked to stay back with the team for the Test series as a net bowler.

But the brutal campaign took a toll on the team and by the time the fourth Test started in Brisbane, India were fighting to put together 11 fit players.

And then Test cricket presented Natarajan with an opportunity to impress the world the way he had done with the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the 2020 edition of the IPL by bowling unplayable yorkers.

And so, more than 13 years after the Lalit Modi-inspired BCCI gave the cricketing world its biggest T20 league, the IPL continues to help India un­earth gems like Natarajan who marked his Test debut with three first innings wickets, playing his role in India's greatest overseas Test series win.

It's not just Natarajan, even the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Panyda enjoyed meteoric rise on the back of their IPL success.

It was in this tournament that Bumrah and Pa­nyda first showcased their talent despite having limited opportunities in first class cricket and en­abling the Indian selectors to see their potential.

"The IPL has definitely helped lot of youngsters as it has given them that platform to perform at their best against the best. Now we have domestic play­ers that get to play against (Virat) Kohli, (Chris) Gayle, (Glenn) Maxwell. They play in front of packed stadiums, so that changes the temperament of the players," former India opener Wasim Jaffer told Khaleej Times during a recent interview.

"Once they experience that, they are not scared when they are thrown into international cricket. And players like Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya, they would not have come to notice if they had not played IPL. They had not played too many first class matches, but because they had strong performanc­es in the IPL, they were fast tracked to the Indian team. That has helped Indian cricket. So the IPL has helped financially and it has also given lot of young players the chance to show their skills."

If on one hand, the IPL has given the perfect platform to players like Rahul Tewatia, T Natara­jan and Varun Chakravarthy, it has also made the BCCI the richest cricket board in the world, thanks to the billions of dollars this tournament makes every year.

Which now brings us to the UAE. The world's most powerful cricket board would have suffered massive losses if the UAE had not salvaged its money-spinner in 2020.

After the disturbing rise in Covid-19 cases in India forced the BCCI to bring the IPL bandwagon to the UAE shores, the popular tournament became a roaring success, albeit without fans in the stands.

The UAE put its best foot forward as its three world-class stadiums hosted 60 high-octane matches over 53 days, giving the Indian cricket board and all the stakeholders in the IPL a reason to smile amid the gloom.

"We have to give massive credit, thanks and ap­preciation to the UAE government and the Emirates Cricket Board," Manoj Badale, the lead owner of the Rajasthan Royals, had told Khaleej Times.

"It's not just appreciation as the IPL owners, the game of cricket owes a huge debt of appreciation because the IPL is one third of the global cricket economy. So it's not just the IPL teams, it's the whole supply chain, the global cricket economy is about two billion dollars and the IPL generates about $600 million.

"So if the IPL had not taken place, it would have been a huge financial impact for the BCCI and the players. When you think about how important the funding of BCCI is to global cricket, no IPL would have been huge. So, it's not just the BCCI, the whole game of cricket should be grateful to the UAE."

The IPL also proved that the UAE is one of the safest destinations to organise high-profile sports events in bio-bubbles. "This message has gone to the 800-900 million IPL followers in the world that it's fantastic to play cricket in the UAE because it's a very safe country, it's a very courageous country. And the kind of precautionary measures that have been taken by the BCCI and the ECB have been absolutely phenomenal," Ranjit Barthakur, chair­man of the Rajasthan Royals, had told Khaleej Times.

The UAE hosting the world's most famous T20 tournament also gave the local cricket fraternity a shot in the arm with three players from the UAE national team earning a chance to train with IPL squads.

While UAE captain Ahmed Raza and young spinner Karthik Meiyappan got the chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers in the Royal Challengers Bangalore camp, veteran pacer Zahoor Khan impressed the Mum­bai Indians stars during his stint as a net bowler.

Less than a year after hitting the headlines by bowling a wicket-maiden to Lendl Simmons, the destructive West Indies batsman, in the star-stud­ded Abu Dhabi T10 tournament, Zahoor Khan spent 55 days in the Mumbai Indians camp, im­pressing Jasprit Bumrah and Shane Bond with his ability to bowl an unplayable slow bouncer.

But more importantly, the likes of Zahoor, Ahmed and Meiyappan earned a wealth of knowl­edge just by bowling to international superstars.

"I think, the words will fall short to explain the experience I have gained while staying with the RCB. I learnt a lot in the two months that I was there," Meiyappan had told Khaleej Times.

Now the 20-year-old Chennai-born UAE leg-spinner is dreaming to make his IPL debut.

"It definitely is a great motivation, like your hunger level increases by just getting a taste of the IPL. Now I want to achieve more. I want to be part of the squad in the coming years, and not just be a net bowler," he said.

Now you never know, an IPL fairytale could soon be awaiting Karthik Meiyappan, and many other promising UAE youngsters.

- rituraj@khaleejtimes.com

 


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