The Indian Premier League (IPL) may be the showpiece T20 league in the world at the moment, and may be known for the wide array of superstars who enthral the fans while minting serious money at the same time.
However, the IPL has also served the sport by churning out hidden gems every year, which has especially helped Indian cricket by nurturing its young talents as they play alongside the giants of international cricket.
Much like last year’s edition, in which the young duo of Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya turned out to be success stories for Indian cricket, there is a plenty of young talent in this year’s line-up to reckon.
India had a successful outing in the U-19 World Cup in February, in which the team looked unstoppable in the group stages and the knockouts, before losing to West Indies in heart-breaking fashion in the final. Nevertheless, quite a few youngsters were picked up by the franchises for this year’s T20 extravaganza even before the World Cup semi-final was played.
Let us take a look at the five Indian U-19 players who could give the seniors a run for their money:
Sarfaraz Khan (Age: 18): Lets not pretend like we have not heard of this name. At a tender age of 17, Sarfaraz rewrote history books when he became the youngest player in the history to play in the IPL. After getting purchased for a sum of Rs 50 lakh by Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), Sarfaraz caught everyone's eye with a blistering 21-ball 45 against Rajasthan Royals in Bengaluru.
However, he was something of a prodigy even before he went under the hammer in the IPL player auctions last year. At the age of 12, he broke the record for the highest score in the Harris Shield inter-school tournament, scoring 439 for Rizvi Springfield (one that was surpassed barely a year later). A spot in the U-19 side eventually beckoned him, and he went on to produce even more astonishing results. The 66-ball 101 against South Africa in an U-19 quadrangular series provided a glimpse of his talent, and he went on to amass 211 runs at an average of 70.33 in the 2014 edition of the U-19 World Cup.
He continued his exceptional form in the 2016 U-19 World Cup, his second and certainly his last appearance in the tournament, by finishing as the second-highest run-getter with 355 runs from six innings’ at an average of 71. After getting retained by RCB ahead of this season, Sarfaraz will look to start conquering the cash-rich league, before eventually eyeing a grand entry into the Indian senior men’s team.
Rishabh Pant (Age: 18): The U-19 World Cup in February has helped unearth a few hidden gems for the talent scouts in the cricket-crazy nation of India. Among the ones who shone with the bat was Rishabh Pant, whose clean hitting and ability to decimate the opposition bowlers with ease could boost the Delhi Daredevils batting line-up.
Incidentally, the Daredevils showed immense faith in his ability, and bought him for Rs 1.9 crore, which would have injected immense confidence into the youngster.
Had it not been for a couple of failures in the last two games of the tournament, Pant would have had a fair shot at finishing at the pinnacle of the top run-getters list. His well-composed 83-ball 57 helped his side recover from a couple of early jolts, before he destroyed the Nepal and Namibia bowling attacks scoring of 78 and 111 respectively. Against Nepal, he smashed the fastest U-19 fifty (18 balls), and had the record for the fastest ton in the format in sight when he got dismissed, though India comfortably won the match by seven wickets.
Ishan Kishan (Age: 17): Earmarked as future India captain, Ishan Kishan impressed with his captaincy in the U-19 World Cup. The 17-year-old lad from Jharkhand, the same state as India’s most successful Test skipper MS Dhoni, was picked up by new franchise Gujarat Lions even before he led his side to a memorable victory in the U-19 World Cup semi-final.
Although the wicketkeeper-batsman may not have made an impact in the the World Cup apart from his inspirational leadership, he has shown sparks of brilliance in the First-Class cricket, having hit a century in the 10 games that he has played, accumulating 736 runs at an average of 40. It will be interesting to see how he blossoms under Suresh Raina’s captaincy, whether he is able to tread along a more flourishing path henceforth.
Mahipal Lomror (Age: 16): The southpaw from Rajasthan may have originally started off as a batsman, but he eventually shaped into an all-rounder, as was evident in India’s U-19 World Cup match against New Zealand, in which his valiant knock of 45 down the order combined with a five-wicket haul in the match played a major role.
His all-round abilities, which he also displayed in a recent U-19 triangular series, should fetch him some action in the ninth edition of the IPL, in which he will be playing for the Delhi Daredevils alongside U-19 team-mates Pant and Khaleel Ahmed. Lomror may have been purchased for a base amount of Rs 10 lakh, but he will look to boost his brand value by helping his side in its quest to break its ignominious run in recent years.
Armaan Jaffer (Age 17): Armaan may have been widely recognised as former Indian cricketer Wasim Jaffer’s nephew in his early years, but it was not long before he started getting recognised for his achievements. Jaffer first stole the limelight with a 498 and 473 in the Giles Shield and Harris Shield respectively, the latter breaking schoolmate Sarfaraz Ahmed’s record for the highest individual score in the tournament.
He went on to scale greater heights in the recent Cooch Behar Trophy where he smashed three consecutive double-tons which helped him seal a place in the U-19 World Cup and also helped him get his maiden IPL contract where Kings XI Punjab bought him for Rs 10 Lakh. He impressed in bits and played a couple of crucial knocks in the World Cup, against New Zealand (46) and Namibia (64). His temperament and straight hitting are his major strengths and he would be looking to make the most of chances that will be presented to him in the IPL.