It’s that time of the year again! The whites have been put away, and summer evening slots have been filled. Glitz, noise, and slam-bang cricket: it’s time for the big daddy of T20 leagues, the IPL.
In its tenth year, the franchises have slowly settled on a strategy that seemed inevitable given the name of the league: it’s the Indian players, both international and uncapped, that matter most. Foreign stars can be your cannons, but without a strong local contingent, the base is always weak. Here, we look at five new faces, and the recent form of five familiar ones, that promise to be instrumental to their teams’ success.
Basil made it to the Gujarat Lions camp on the basis of a strong showing in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy Inter-Zonals, impressing one and all with his ability to hit speeds in excess of 145 km/h, and bowl an effective yorker that swings late into the right hander. Another pacer from the MRF Pace Foundation, he has 26 T20 wickets from 23 innings at an economy rate of 7.09. Basil will be crucial to a Gujarat team overly dependent on their Indian bowlers.
He comes from the most humble of backgrounds. From a small village in Tamil Nadu where he was a tennis ball superstar, he came to play for the Jolly Rovers, a famous Chennai club that has fielded the likes of M Vijay, and then had a dream run with the Dindigul Dragons in the TNPL. With his left-arm angle, persistent yorkers, and recurrent cutters, Natarajan threatens to be the homegrown Mustafizur, the X-factor in Kings XI Punjab’s attack.
Siraj is the son of a rickshaw-driver from Hyderabad, who had played only tennis-ball cricket till the age of 20. A fan of bowling fast, he has a strong bouncer and a taste for the big occasion. He was Hyderabad’s most successful bowler in the recent Ranji season, snaring 43 wickets at 18.92. In this year’s Inter-State T20 tournament, he had nine victims, going at just 6.57 runs per over. Although he might not get a game in a Sunrisers team full of big names, he’s a great asset to be called up from the bench.
They are both currently on trial for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, who are looking for a replacement for the injured KL Rahul. An aggressive opener and wicketkeeper, Vinod strikes at 143.2 in T20s, and has 21 sixes from 11 innings. Meanwhile, Jagadeesan was the third-highest run-getter in the recent Deodhar Trophy and was the top run-scorer in the 2016 version of the TNPL.
Both these wicket-keepers are fiery opening bats, and now that they’re getting their chance on the big stage, RCB might not miss Rahul at all this season.
While these five new kids on the block mentioned above are exciting prospects, there are some who have been there and thereabouts, but might be stars this season with their current form:
DK is the talk of the season. Across the Vijay Hazare and Deodhar Trophies this year, he has 854 runs at an average of 85.4 and a strike rate of 105.6. His three tons and five fifties were vital to Tamil Nadu’s overall dominance this season, and he lends crucial balance to a Gujarat Lions batting order accused too often of being top-heavy.
Pandya is the fulcrum of a Mumbai Indians side that boasts of many bigger names, coming in at 6 or 7 and bowling crucial overs of spin. He has 3 fifties in the Vijay Hazare Trophy at an average of 45.75, and bowled decently for his three wickets from two innings in the Deodhar Trophy.
Jadhav was a revelation in India’s most recent limited-overs internationals, taking on the role of the late-order hitter with fire and panache. At a strike rate of 136.4, he hit 375 runs from 7 innings for Maharashtra in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, including a 64-ball 113 against Delhi. In an RCB batting starting with three veritable legends of the format, his red-hot form ensures a relentless night for the opposing bowlers.
Thakur was recently picked up by Rising Pune SuperGiant to bolster their bowling stocks. He’s a good pick considering his stellar returns of 16 wickets at an average of 14.75, conceding just 4.8 runs per over in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. His most recent performance was a 3-49 against the season-conquering Tamil Nadu. Not given many games by the Kings XI in previous tournaments, he promises to be an essential part of Pune’s rather weak bowling array this year.
Kulkarni has been bobbing around the Indian side for many years with his accuracy and nagging line. In three Deodhar Trophy games this year, he took 11 wickets at 13.45, including 5-39 against Tamil Nadu in the final. His only game in the Vijay Hazare Trophy saw him get 3-17 in a miserly 9-over spell. He slips under the radar, but his rhythm this year makes Gujarat one of the most dangerous teams of IPL 2017.