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Image Credit: Gulf News/IPL

Saturday was an exciting day for IPL 2021. A day when new batting talents produced breathtaking displays that bode well for Indian cricket’s future. Ruturaj Gaikwad’s scintillating century gave the Chennai Super Kings a huge total, but the brilliance of Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shivam Dube helped Rajasthan Royals chase down the target. These performances came on the heels of a fine half-century from Venkatesh Iyer in Kolkata Knight Riders’ loss against the Punjab Kings on Friday.

Interestingly, three of the four are left-handers. Dube is the only middle-order batsman, while the rest are openers. Iyer, like Dube, is an all-rounder. It makes for an interesting mix.

They may be young, but not newbies. Dube, 28, made his T20 International debut in 2016 and has played 13 T20 games for the national side, besides a lone appearance in a One-day International. So he is not an unknown quantity.

But Venkatesh Iyer was. At 26, Iyer has been the surprise package. He surfaced in the UAE for Phase 2 of IPL 2021 and has held us in thrall with his bold strokeplay. Well, Iyer has been in the domestic circuit since 2015, turning out for Madhya Pradesh, and got the big break after a prolific white-ball season in 2020-21. His IPL form is a mere extension of that purple patch.

Iyer may have stumped us, but Gaikwad’s prodigious talent hasn’t been a secret. That’s why the Chennai Super King bought him for the 2019 season. The wealth of talent in CSK ranks didn’t afford him opportunities, and he failed to use the handful of chances early last season. But when CSK’s 2020 campaign sank, more chances came Gaikwad’s way. The 24-year-old’s timing and technique were evident in the string of big scores, which allowed him to seal the opener’s slot after Shane Watson’s retirement.

Yashasvi Jaiswal
Yashasvi Jaiswal of the Rajasthan Royals in action against the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League game at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, on October 2, 2021. Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL/PTI

Jaiswal is the youngest of the bunch at 19. His rags-to-riches story has been well-documented, and his precocious talent was in full bloom during the Under-19 World Cup. His outings for Rajasthan Royals last year didn’t do justice to his talent, but the franchise continued to repose faith on the frail shoulders of Jaiswal, who plays for Mumbai. And he’s been superb this year.

Fearlessness is what marks out Jaiswal and the rest of the bunch. The manner in which the Royals batsman tore into Josh Hazlewood was absolutely sensational. The Abu Dhabi wicket may have been eased by dew, but Hazlewood is a frontline bowler for Australia. It requires tremendous skill to take apart a bowler of his calibre.

Two overs of carnage raised Jaiswal’s fifty from 19 balls, the joint-second-fastest for Royals in IPL history. He’s reed-thin; I wonder where does he get the power from. That comes from his immaculate timing. Listen to the sound of the bat meeting the ball; no brute force there, just sweet timing as the ball races away.

Shivam Dube
Shivam Dube of the Rajasthan Royals plays a shot against the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League match at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, on October 2, 2021. Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL/PTI

Jaiwal’s departure set the stage for Dube’s comeback. He ensured there were no hiccups after the Royals’ rollicking start of 77 from five overs. The southpaw, who had struggled for a spot in the Rajasthan side, was entrusted with the No 4 spot. His skipper Sanju Samson must have faith in him, and Dube repaid it handsomely with an array of thundering sixes and fours. But one inning won’t resurrect his career: Dube would know. It would need consistency in a fickle format of cricket. Dube has shown his power-hitting skills are intact, but he needs to parade them more often.

Gaikwad has been doing just that, especially since IPL resumed in the UAE. He was at his best in the first game when CSK batters floundered against the Mumbai Indians’ pace attack. Not only did Gaikwad weather the storm, but he also steered Chennai Super Kings to a fighting score before the bowlers reined in Mumbai.

Gaikwad against Rajasthan
Ruturaj Gaikwad of the Chennai Super Kings in action against the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League game at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, on October 2, 2021. Image Credit: IPL

The Maharashtra player has been providing good starts in Season 14, and Gaikwad has been unstoppable in the UAE, scoring at an average of 104 and with a strike rate of 148.57 in five innings. The unbeaten 80 against Mumbai was followed by scores of 38, 40, 45 and 101 not out. The century against Rajasthan was particularly impressive since the first half-century was constructed on a sticky wicket.

Unlike Jaiswal, Gaikwad likes to get his eye in before unfurling his full repertoire of strokes. Faf du Plessis’ aggression at the other end has helped Gaikwad pace his innings. And the results have been impressive. No wonder his skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni can’t stop praising him.

Venkatesh Iyer
Venkatesh Iyer of the Kolkata Knight Riders in action during the IPL match against the Mumbai Indians in Abu Dhabi on September 23, 2021. Image Credit: ANI

Praise has been lavished on Iyer too. Who’s Venkatesh Iyer? That question popped up after Kolkata Knight Riders stunned the Mumbai Indians with Iyer striking some hefty blows against Trent Boult and Adam Milne. Turns out that he’s got an MBA under his belt and spurned a job at Deloitte to pursue cricket.

The left-handed opener continued to impress, and more big scores followed. And Iyer’s been taking wickets with his right-arm medium pace, which captain Eoin Morgan has begun to deploy in the slog overs. That’s a ringing endorsement of his bowling skills.

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More plaudits followed. “In Venkatesh Iyer, Kolkata have unearthed a player who can be the all-rounder that India is looking for. His bowling is not express, but he gets the yorker right more often than not and doesn’t let the batsman slog him. As a batsman, he plays upright, which gets into a great position to play the short ball, and he drives beautifully through the offside like all left-handers seem to do,” former India captain Sunil Gavaskar wrote in The Times of India.

High praise indeed. Unlike Jaiswal, Gaikwad and Dube, Iyer seemed to have bloomed late. But it’s never too late for India colours if he can keep performing like this.

The four talents represent the beauty of the Indian Premier League. It’s a cauldron that turns talents into champions. More will follow. Keep your eyes peeled.