Every season of the Indian Premier League brings with it a plethora of fresh Indian talent, while the T20 league is most cherished and admired for bringing recognition to fresh faces, it is also a platform for some of those old war horses or International discards to find favour with the national selectors or extend their careers in T20 leagues.
Here we take a look at ten Indian players for whom this edition of the IPL might turn out be career-altering or perhaps in some cases even career-saving
Yuvraj Singh (Mumbai Indians)
IPL record: Matches – 128, Runs – 2652, Avg – 24.78, SR – 129.68, Wickets - 36
The veteran batsman has been a shadow of his former self and nearly went unsold at the IPL auctions before a late bid, for his base price, from Mumbai Indians, gave him a fresh lease. This is Yuvraj’s sixth franchise in his IPL career and would possibly be his last if he cannot make a big impact at Mumbai Indians.
Yuvraj averaged 10.83 last season for Kings XI Punjab and scored runs at a strike rate less than 90. He couldn’t pick up a wicket either and it seemed like the season would see the last of the World Cup 2011 hero. Mumbai Indians wanted a touch of experience to guide their younger crop of players and decided to trust Yuvraj and would be hoping he finds his old mojo back this season. He is out of contention for the World Cup, but he has a history of making sensational comebacks and if he owns this IPL, who’s to say he won’t be donning that blue jersey one another time?
Wriddhiman Saha (Sunrisers Hyderabad)
IPL record: Matches – 115, Runs – 1679, Avg – 24.33, SR – 129.85, Catches - 56
From India’s first-choice Test wicket-keeper, Wriddhiman Saha has seen injury play a major role in sidelining him from the squad itself. A shoulder injury had seen him miss nearly a year of cricket and in the meantime, Rishabh Pant has not only taken his place in the Test squad but also stamped it down with some serious performances with the bat and behind the stumps on tough overseas assignments.
Saha made a recent return from the injury to play for Bengal in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament and smashed a 129 against Arunachal Pradesh last month. He followed it up with another half-century against Odisha and appears in good touch heading into the IPL, where he will play for Sunrisers Hyderabad. If Johnny Bairstow doesn’t make the starting XI, Saha could well be the assigned keeper and a top-order batsman, a role he has revelled in the past for Kings XI Punjab.
Suresh Raina (Chennai Super Kings)
IPL record: Matches – 176, Runs – 4985, Avg – 34.37, SR – 138.43
Suresh Raina is IPL's leading run-scorer with 4985 runs in 176 matches but, of late, the 32-year old hasn’t been able to put together the kind of astounding knocks that made him invaluable in the national side. He has lost his place in the Indian limited-overs sides and stands little chance of making it to the national team considering the large talent pool present at the selectors’ disposal.
That said, Raina loves the IPL and his dashing batting coupled with his electric fielding and handy off-spin make him a T20 legend. Despite his supposed loss of form, Raina racked up 445 runs last season, the most by him since 2014, at an average of 37.08. He is an important player in the CSK ranks and a telling performance this season could still see him squeeze his way into the national side in the shortest format at least.
Ajinkya Rahane (Rajasthan Royals)
IPL record: Matches – 126, Runs – 3427, Avg – 32.95, SR – 120.33, Catches – 50
Ajinkya Rahane had a queer, quiet season last time around at the top of the order for Rajasthan Royals. Despite scoring 370 runs in the season, his strike rate often came under scrutiny and in a team of belligerent strikers of the ball, Rahane in a way was pulling the side. He made just a solitary half-century in the 2018 season and was hardly the force he once was in the IPL. The composed opener has lost his place in the Indian limited-overs side and is also no longer the Test player he used to be.
Low on confidence and lacking the dependability that made him an omnipresent figure in the Indian side across formats, Rahane needs a stellar IPL season to get back on track. With Steven Smith returning to Rajasthan Royals, the franchise isn’t entirely dependent on Rahane to anchor the innings. This could free him up at the top and allow him to play the kind of innings he used to play two seasons back.
He was below par in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament, making scores of 11, 0 ,1, 31, 4 and 11 in six matches but enjoyed reasonable success in List A matches, making 597 runs in 11 innings at 74.62. His numbers post the Champions Trophy for India in ODIs are also impressive and he will hope to make the IPL count to reinstate his value to the side.
Umesh Yadav (Royal Challengers Bangalore)
IPL record: Matches – 108, Wickets – 111, Avg – 28.15, Eco – 8.32
Unable to defend 14 runs in the final over in the first match of the T20I series against Australia at Vizag recently, Umesh Yadav’s place in the limited-overs side has come under scrutiny and his chances of making it to the World Cup squad now appear minimal. His nippy pace and late movement should ideally work in England conditions but carrying a ruthless pack of players, Umesh would perhaps turn out to be a mere passenger.
He needs a superb IPL like last year to make a statement ahead of the World Cup. Umesh’s primary skill is to strike early with the new ball and it is in this role that he excelled for Royal Challengers Bangalore last season, taking 20 wickets in the 14 matches that he played. Can he put together another instrumental season, though?
Ravichandran Ashwin (Kings XI Punjab)
IPL record: Matches – 125, Wickets – 110, Avg – 26.45, Eco – 6.73
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja has fallen out of favour with the selectors in limited-overs cricket ever since the Champions Trophy in England, two years ago. Wrist-spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have taken over duties in limited-overs cricket however Jadeja has managed to squeeze himself back into contention. Same is not the case with Ashwin, who has been playing the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 competition and leading the Kings XI Punjab in the IPL in a bid to win back the lost place in the side.
There are quite a lot of people in India who still believe Ashwin is the no.1 spinner in the country and the Tamil Nadu all-rounder, who oozes confidence with his words, needs to show he can be a wicket-taking option in white ball cricket. His IPL economy tells you that he is a containing bowler but this Indian team needs wickets from its spinners and one challenge for Ashwin this IPL season would be to ensure he is among the wickets. The last time he took more than 15 wickets in a season was way back in 2014. Ashwin needs a performance akin to that to catch selectors' attention.
Shardul Thakur (Chennai Super Kings)
IPL record: Matches – 26, Wickets – 28, Avg – 28.00, Eco – 8.92
Thakur had his finest season in the IPL last year, taking 16 wickets in 13 matches. He was clever with his pace variations and used the yorker pretty well in the death overs as Chennai Super Kings grabbed the title. The Indian seamer, though, has been found wanting at International level and his declining performances, in particular a soaring economy rate, has seen him being dumped from the limited-overs sides.
With the likes of Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar, Siddharth Kaul and a slew of young, brisk seamers garnering attention, Thakur will need a strong performance in the IPL this season to win back the selectors. He will be buoyed by the fact that MS Dhoni will be behind the stumps and constantly guiding him on where and how to bowl. The breakthrough season for him came last year, but it is all about continuing to hit the right notes and Thakur might push his case for World Cup if he can string together some fine bowling spells.
Jaydev Unadkat (Rajasthan Royals)
IPL record: Matches – 62, Wickets – 67, Avg – 26.77, Eco – 8.39
Jaydev Unadkat made headlines in the 2017 season for Rising Pune Supergiant and immediately earned a call-up to the Indian limited-overs sides. However, he couldn’t replicate the kind of success since that season and was dropped after a handful of matches for his high economy rate and inability to curb the big shots in the death.
India are on the lookout for the perfect left-arm seamer to complement their potent right-arm pace attack and had tried Khaleel Ahmed without much success in recent times.
Unadkat could be back in contention if he can show his wily slower balls and cutters are still effective. He took 16 wickets in 8 matches in the Vijay Hazare Trophy last season at an average of 18.43 and seems to have rediscovered some of his mojo.
In the IPL in 2018, though, he enjoyed less success despite bagging a whopping deal with Rajasthan Royals, taking 11 wickets at an economy of 9.65. It is this kind of economy that worries the Indian think-tank and if Unadkat wants to get back into the side, he needs to show he can restrict the scoring rate while taking wickets.
Axar Patel (Delhi Capitals)
IPL record: Matches – 68, Wickets – 61, Avg – 28.93, Eco – 7.52, Runs - 686
A handy all-rounder and a utility player in this format of the game, Axar Patel was a key figure at Kings XI Punjab for five seasons. A fearless cricketer with a good cricketing brain, Axar has the ability to restrict the scoring rate, pick up wickets and he can even go bonkers with the bat. He was a like-for-like replacement for Jadeja in the Indian limited-overs sides until recently but that position has now been occupied by the irresistible Krunal Pandya, who has been putting together instrumental performances in the blue jersey.
Axar needs a solid IPL to come back into the national scheme of things and is helped by the fact that he is about to begin a new journey at a new franchise. Delhi Capitals will need a consistent all-rounder like Axar to redeem their reputation while Axar himself needs a franchise where he is an important player. The performance this season could make or break Axar’s future with the Indian side.
Murali Vijay (Chennai Super Kings)
IPL record: Matches – 101, Runs – 2523, Avg – 26.28, SR – 123.37, Catches – 46
Murali Vijay has had mixed fortunes in the IPL with his last big season coming in 2016 for Kings XI Punjab where he made 453 runs in 14 matches at 34.84. The Indian Test opener lost his place in the national Test side last year after string of poor performances in England and Australia. Mayank Agarwal grabbed his opportunity with both hands in Australia and young sensation Prithvi Shaw is the other opener in the longest format while KL Rahul remains the back-up option.
All of this leaves Murali Vijay out of the picture in red ball cricket and he needs to not only show good form but also display the ability to bounce back from failures. While his performance in a T20 tournament might not win back a place in the Test side, Vijay can show he has the temperament and will to fight for his place in the side. The IPL seems a good way to announce he is still capable of churning out the big runs. But first things first, he needs to ensure he starts at the top of the order for CSK. Vijay smashed three three consecutive 70+ scores in Syed Mushtaq Ali T20, including a century, for Tamil Nadu.
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Styris acknowledged that Raina's absence has left a huge void in the CSK middle-order and that it is not going to be easy to find a substitute for the seasoned left-handed batsman who last month retired from international cricket.
Chennai Super Kings have been the second-most successful franchise in the IPL with three titles, behind Mumbai Indians who lead the table with four.
The Player of the Tournament at the 2011 World Cup, Yuvraj had announced his retirement from all forms of cricket in June 2019.