The ball tampering row, life bans and pointless press conferences have overshadowed the festivity of the cricketing season about to greet viewers in the Indian sub-continent, the Indian Premier League (IPL).
While the event, into its 11th season, is a walk-in placement drive for youngsters with oodles of talent, it is also an exhibition where the forgotten masters showcase their skills and look to woo the national selectors.
It is now widely accepted that the IPL makes or breaks dreams. For some Indian stalwarts, it presents an opportunity to push their case one final time. Here we discuss five names who would look to steal the limelight at the IPL to get back into national contention.
Ravindra Jadeja (Chennai Super Kings)
Surprisingly retained by the returning Chennai Super Kings (CSK) franchise, Ravindra Jadeja was apparently tailor-made for the shorter formats of the game. His IPL record, though, states otherwise. In 138 matches, Jadeja has 1732 runs at 24.05 to go along with an unimpressive wicket tally of 82 at an economy of 7.81.
He had a horrible season with Gujarat Lions last year, picking up a mere 5 wickets in 12 games, which makes his retention even more puzzling. In the national scheme of things, Jadeja has been axed for long from the limited-overs sides with Kuldeep Yadav, Axar Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal taking over the reins of the spin department.
A good IPL could spark a change, though, and Jadeja, re-united with some of his former Chennai teammates, will look to capitalise on the opportunity, alter his past exploits and drive home a point.
Umesh Yadav (Royal Challengers Bangalore)
The nippy pace bowler is now officially India's permanent bench-warmer with opportunities in the eleven coming few and far between. While Yadav boasts of good pace and variations, his tendency to go wayward and concede runs has stood against him.
Umesh Yadav has 91 wickets in 94 IPL matches and was part of the Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) title-winning campaigns in 2012 and 2014. He was exceptional in the 2017 season as well, grabbing 17 wickets in 14 games but once again the economy went against him.
At Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), Yadav will have a chance to entice Virat Kohli at close quarters. The season could well make or break his limited-over fortunes in Indian colours.
Yuvraj Singh (Kings XI Punjab)
Back at the franchise — Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) — where he enjoyed his heydays, Yuvraj Singh recently confirmed he had no plans of retiring from international cricket until after 2019. A man of many comebacks, Yuvraj is once again out of favour with the selectors but it isn't something he hasn't overcome in the past.
The veteran southpaw is one of the most eye-catching names in the IPL and has ruled the roost in this format of the game where he holds the record for the fastest half-century. Yuvraj did not have a great time with Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) but still managed to impress in bits and pieces.
However, that kind of impact may not win over the national selectors. Yuvraj will need to bring out his ‘A’ game to find a place in the Indian limited-overs sides but with shaky middle-order woes and his prior record of comebacks, would you put it past the six-hitting machine?
Robin Uthappa (Kolkata Knight Riders)
Perhaps the one player who has consistently churned out fine performances in the past few seasons is Robin Uthappa. The swashbuckling KKR opener has thrived at the top of the order and has a rather strong IPL record to showcase.
In 149 matches, Uthappa has managed 3,735 runs at an average nearly touching 30 and a strike rate in excess of 130. A proven match-winner and a steady batsman at the top, Uthappa has been unlucky to miss out on selection in the past couple of seasons.
Another spell-binding IPL and it could get too difficult for the Indian selectors to ignore the wicket-keeper batsman. However, with Gautam Gambhir gone to Delhi, it remains to be seen how effective Uthappa can be for Kolkata this time around.
Ousted from the Indian limited-overs team after a dismal Champions Trophy, Ravichandran Ashwin has had a tough time getting back into the ODI and T20I teams. With Chahal and Kuldeep hogging the headlines, Ashwin had to resort to leg-spin, a variation he believes could bring him back to the Indian side.
CSK as well deserted him and Ashwin has quite a lot of critics to silence this year at the IPL where he would be skippering KXIP. The additional responsibility is usually a pressure factor for most cricketers, but Ashwin seems to be quite comfortable in the role.
With the ODI World Cup in England less than a year away, Ashwin needs a superb IPL to push forward his case. He isn't one to back out from a challenge and his newly added variation could make him a force to reckon with.