London: It is little surprise to learn what has impressed Shaun Tait the most during the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL).
“The main thing I’ve noticed is the talent of the younger Indian fast bowlers,” the former Australia pacer and 2007 World Cup winner tells Gulf News.
As a sultan of speed, Tait obviously retains an ardent appreciation of pace bowling. The 35-year-old unleashed the joint second-fastest delivery of all time – a 161.1km/h thunderbolt – in the fifth One-Day International between England and Australia at Lord’s in July 2010.
He also took 23 wickets in 21 matches for the Rajasthan Royals between 2010-13 in the IPL, which has been fertile territory for foreign fast-bowling giants such as Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar since its 2008 debut.
But as Tait acknowledges, Indian bowlers have enjoyed life in the fast lane more than ever this year; at the time of writing this, four homegrown speedsters occupied the IPL’s top-10 leading wicket-takers.
“Jasprit Bumrah is already becoming a star and will continue to do so,” says Tait of the Mumbai Indians man, who has prospered through his unorthodox action and ability to bowl yorkers. “Ankit Rajpoot [the 19-year-old medium-pacer for the Kings XI Punjab] is big, strong and quick, hits the deck hard and has the ability to bowl at the death. Shivam Mavi at Kolkata [Knight Riders] is doing a good job, too, and has time on his side.
“There are a lot of [Indian] guys of 25-26 years old doing well but they’re coming into their prime now.”
Rubbing shoulders with some of the game’s elite has galvanised the aforementioned tyros’ development, Tait opines.
“The best thing about the IPL is playing with guys from different parts of the world and learning from each other,” says Tait, who is an analyst on ESPNcricinfo.com’s coverage of the event.
“Playing a big tournament like the IPL will give them great exposure and get them ready for the pressure of international cricket in the future. The IPL helps as we get to see more players from domestic cricket.
“They never used to get the exposure before the IPL, which is the same for all the T20 competitions around the world. Players are making a name for themselves and earning a decent living, whereas before there was only one option, which was to play for your local side in four-day or 50-over cricket.”
The Sunrisers Hyderabad were, at the time of writing earlier this week, leading the IPL standings.
Their success has been built on the ability of their bowlers – spearheaded by India’s Bhuvneshwar Kumar – to bail them out when forced to defend paltry totals.
“The Hyderabad team is impressive,” continues Tait, who retired from cricket in March 2017 due to a chronic elbow injury. “People were worried about their batting not being that strong, but they’ve showed you can win with a strong bowling attack.
“Who will win the title? It’s really hard to say, but I will have to go with the Sunrisers Hyderabad because they have the best bowling and Kane Williamson is leading well.”
His old side, the Rajasthan Royals, have flattered to deceive in contrast, after losing six of their first 10 matches.
“The Royals have struggled a bit,” adds Tait, who also represented the Kolkata Knight Riders in the 2016 IPL. “They don’t seem to know what the right combination in their batting order is. Hopefully they get it right for the rest of the tournament.
“With [the West Indies-born English bowler] Jofra Archer, their bowling should improve.”
Tait’s itinerant career included T20 stints in the Pakistan Super League and the IPL’s biggest rival, the Big Bash League, in his homeland.
He is unequivocal, however, on the status of the IPL as the world’s pre-eminent T20 contest.
“I believe the IPL is still the number one tournament due to the amount of star overseas players in the squads. The Big Bash only has two, which suits that tournament.
“The amount of money in the IPL also keeps it above the other competitions, but the Big Bash is closing the gap.”
Tait does not envisage the prospect of Indian stars ever gracing the BBL, however. “It’s during the Indian season and the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) have their reasons [for preventing them from playing], I’m sure,” he says.
He also emphatically rejects the far-flung suggestion, mooted by one Indian media outlet last year, that he could play for India.
Tait became an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) last year after marrying the former Indian model, Mashoom Singha, in 2014 and would be eligible to represent the Men in Blue in 2020 as per International Cricket Council (ICC) rules.
“Considering I’ve retired from cricket, no,” Tait replies.
Tait has run a pub with his wife in South Australia for four years and they are busy bringing up their nine-month-old daughter.
He also relishes his media commitments in India, a country which he loves dearly.
Tait enthuses: “The warmth of the people and hospitality make India a special country.”
- The writer is a sports journalist and editor in the UK