Rishabh Pant
Rishabh Pant of the Delhi Capitals captured India’s attention through his electrifying innings in IPL games. He has become a matchwinner for India. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

India’s talent pool is the envy of the cricketing world. If you don’t believe me, check out the tweets of former players from England, Australia and Pakistan. Some of them are cricket pundits who are not easily given to praise. They are gushing at the unbridled aggression of Rishabh Pant, the accuracy of Axar Patel, the swing and control of Mohammed Siraj and the shrewd variations of Shardul Thakur.

That’s plenty of evidence. And this effusive praise has come after superb performances in Australia and the home series against England. The Australian tour is particularly noteworthy since it the first senior for most of them. Washington Sundar and T. Natarajan were not part of the plans for the Test series; injuries to key players gave them the breaks. And how well did they perform; it was almost as if they were experienced campaigners.

How IPL shapes young players

What has the Indian Premier League got to do with it? Everything, I’d say. First of all, the IPL offered these players a stage to perform. In the days before COVID-19, matches were played in packed stadiums that reverberated with the din and chants of the home team’s supporters. Pressure, you feel it right there. This is no theatre for the weak-hearted.

If that’s bad enough, you have the high-octane clashes where tight spells and soaring run rates can reduce the best of cricketers to leaden-footed weaklings. But after 13 IPLs, players in India would have learned to handle the pressure-cooker situations. They would have come across innumerable crises that required a cool head. Some would have failed miserably, while others would have ridden the adrenalin to success. In both cases, they would have benefited. These are situations that turn youngsters into hardy veterans.

Mohammed Siraj
Mohammed Siraj had a good IPL season with the Royal Challengers Bangalore last year. A call-up to the Indian team followed, and he turned in some very impressive spells for the national squad. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

For India’s domestic cricketers, there’s no better training than the IPL. If they can survive the battles against some of the best cricketers in the world in tense situations wrought by the IPL, they would be equipped to perform anywhere. That’s what Sundar, Siraj, Thakur and Natarajan proved in Australia. The IPL may be white-ball cricket, but the skills honed in the Twenty20 games can work in any format of the game.

The presence of foreign players is a huge influence, especially for budding talents. Teams are allowed to field foreign cricketers in the English County Championship, and the Sheffield Shield matches in Australia, although the number of players in each game is restricted. So English first-class players get to play West Indian quicks and spinners from the subcontinent. Vivian Richards and Ian Botham played for Queensland, and Barry Richard scored heavily for South Australia.

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In the IPL too, foreign players are expected to weigh in well in every game. And their presence is hugely beneficial for the younger players. They learn about how to prepare for big matches from the best in the business. They can pick up the finer points of the game and technique from some of the finest exponents of the game. And youngsters can test their mettle against the modern-day greats.

Years ago, I watched Rajasthan Royal’s Sanju Samson lift Dale Steyn delivery straight over his head for a six in only the third over the game against the Bangalore Royal Challengers. Samson was in his second or third year of his IPL, and Steyn was the best fast bowler in the world at that time. Imagine Samson’s confidence and what it will do to his international career. That Samson is yet to hold a regular place in the Indian squad is another story.

Last year, young leggie Ravi Bishnoi and medium-pacer Arshdeep Singh of the Kings XI Punjab (now renamed Punjab Kings) toiled with success against teams stacked with international players. So did Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti of the Kolkata Knight Riders.

The performances of Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Siraj and Delhi Capitals’ Axar Patel in Test matches didn’t come as a surprise. In the UAE, we had seen some fine displays from these youngsters in the IPL 13 last year. Sundar did bowl well for the Royal Challenger Bangalore, but his batting in Tests was a revelation.

These are players who caught the eye last year. But over the years, there’s been a steady supply of talents coming through the IPL pipeline. None bigger than Rishabh Pant of the Delhi Capitals. The Delhi skipper is the toast of the cricketing world after his belligerent batting won Tests and One-Day International matches for India. That wasn’t entirely unexpected for regular IPL watchers.

How IPL launched the careers of Pant and Bumrah

There were others before Pant, who found fame, fortune and India caps through the IPL. Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin used to open the bowling for the Chennai Super Kings before he replaced Harbajan Singh in the Indian team. Now Ashwin is one of the mainstays of Delhi. Ravindra Jadeja turned out for Rajasthan Royals, Kochi Tuskers Kerala and Gujarat Lions. By the time he joined Chennai, Jadeja had cemented a place in the India squad.

Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah and Shreyas Iyer have become regulars for India on the strength of their showing in the IPL. Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav are the latest to make the India grade on the sheer dint of their scoring in IPL matches.

The IPL has turned into a stream of young cricketers filling the Indian talent pool. That’s turning the cricketing world green with envy.