IPL Openers
YOUTH POWER (from left): Ruturaj Gaikwad, Yashaswi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill are in ominous form in their first games of the IPL 2023. Gaikwad could make a return to the Indian squad for the World Cup. Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL

Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shubman Gill and Yashaswi Jaiswal: they are young and eager. The three are opening batters. Lean and lithe, they are gifted with superb timing that lends elegance to their strokes that doesn’t rely on power, yet the ball races to the boundary or soars over it. That was a common sight on the first three days of IPL 2023.

Gaikwad set the Narendra Modi Stadium alight in Season 16’s inaugural game with a flurry of strokes reaffirming his burgeoning talent. No other Chennai Super Kings batters could match him until Mahendra Singh Dhoni provided the finishing touches with lusty hits.

One of the bowlers who suffered at the blazing blade of Gaikwad was Alzarri Joseph. The West Indian is no ordinary trundler; he bowls at speeds that top 145kmph. But the Pune-born batter seemed unperturbed, whipping him over midwicket and square-leg fences. That came after he had laid into Gujarat Titans’ skipper Hardik Pandya.

The 26-year-old seemed to have plenty of time to play his shots. That stems from his ability to read the length very early, allowing him to be in the perfect position to play shots. Gaikwad’s talent is no secret; he’s already played for India in white-ball cricket in one One-Day International and nine T20 Internationals.

He hit the limelight in 2020 when CSK endured one of their worst seasons. They were out of the playoff race and playing for pride in the UAE, allowing Gaikwad to provide glimpses of his skill with fine knocks.

When the IPL returned to the UAE the following year, Gaikwad was on fire again. His brilliant starts in the company of Faf du Plessis lifted Chennai to their fourth IPL title, and it landed Gaikwad a place in the Indian team. In Chennai’s scrappy performance last year, Gaikwad scored 367 runs. The 92 off 50 balls in Ahmedabad on Saturday was merely an extension of that.

Rival skipper Pandya was so impressed that he said Gaikwad could do wonders for Indian cricket. “We were finding it difficult as to what areas we should bowl because he’s an all-round cricketer, plays cricketing shots,” Pandya said after Gujarat’s tight five-wicket win.

Shubman Gill is the player for all formats

That win was made possible by a stellar knock from Shubman Gill. The Gujarat opener comes into IPL 16 on the back of a deluge of runs in international cricket, including centuries in all three formats of the game. His 36-ball 63 was the continuation of the purple patch.

Good deliveries have little effect on the 23-year-old, who eases them into gaps with frustrating regularity for the rival captains. That’s a huge leap for a player who had to cope with flak for his tardy knocks for the Kolkata Knight Riders. Even his debut season for Gujarat wasn’t exceptional, but this year he seemed to have an extra gear without compromising his orthodox strokeplay.

Don’t be surprised when more runs flow from Gill’s bat in this IPL. He also seemed to have sewed a spot in the Indian team for the 50-over World Cup.

Just when I was gushing over the exploits of Gaikwad and Gill, Jaiswal decided to join the party. He’s the lone left-handed among the three and hasn’t had their success. The Mumbai batter has been with the Rajasthan Royals over the last three seasons but hasn’t been consistent.

Jaiswal’s talent has never been in doubt; some of it was evident in the Under-19 World Cup and the domestic tournaments, but he’s yet to perform to his full potential. Last year, the batter from Mumbai scored 258 runs in IPL, but that isn’t enough to be talked about in the same breath as Gaikwad and Gill.

Jaiswal in full flow is a treat to watch. He was in his element on Sunday, as Jaiswal shredded the Sunrisers Hyderabad attack for a 37-ball 54 and post 85 runs in the powerplay in the company of Jos Buttler. If the 21-year-old can produce knocks like that, an India cap is not far away.

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It’s time India started to look beyond Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul for the opening slots. The two have failed to fire in the powerplays in the recent international outings. The decision to persist with Rahul is baffling when there’s such an abundance of talent. The Karnataka batter is a class player, no doubt about it. But his form is appalling. Let him find his scoring touch and return to the Indian squad.

Sharma should also look at dropping the order, as Gill and Gaikwad can forge a good partnership. The Indian skipper can always return to the opening slot if required.

Gill, Gaikwad and Jaiswal have given us plenty of cheer in the early days of Season 16. There are many more matches to come, and we will see more Indian youngsters parading their skills. Just like Tilak Varma did for the Mumbai Indians on Sunday. Keep your eyes peeled.