Born within two years of each other and the biggest newsmakers at the latest Indian Premier League (IPL) auctions, it is intriguing how similar the storylines of Varun Chakravarty and Shivam Dube are.
While Dube had to stay away from cricket for five years due to personal reasons, a degree in architecture and a job kept Chakravarty away from the sport for close to seven years. The itch to make their natural talent count, however, got them back to the game, and both used their respective state-associations' Twenty20 (T20) leagues to be noticed. Now they are at a stage from where their careers could really flourish.
Kings XI Punjab procuring Chakravarty for Rs 8.4 crore shows how significantly perception towards players past a certain age has changed in the Indian cricket. There was a time when cricketers stopped dreaming big once they entered the wrong side of the 20s because they were ‘not young enough’ and the selectors always wanted talents who could offer stability and build a team for the future.
Pravin Tambe, of course, changed the narrative when he became one of the oldest debutants in the IPL in 2013, and the logic was understandable. Franchises were not like traditional state associations. They were more keen on immediate solutions that could see them through the season. The future could wait. Once Rajasthan Royals set the template, other franchises jumped the bandwagon and that has led to some raw talents like Shivil Kaushik and Ankit Soni, among others, being noticed.
The emergence of state-based T20 leagues obviously have allowed IPL franchises to widen their net, and the research behind unearthing previously unheard names has led to bidding wars in the auction room.
Chakravarty, for example, used the carrom ball to catch the attention of Robin Singh, coach of one of the Tamil Nadu Premier League teams and also a part of the Mumbai Indians set up, last year. This year he played a key role to help underdogs Madurai Panthers win TNPL for the first time. Before that, he had bowled at Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) nets where he mingled with some of the legends of the game.
Just the thought of a club-level cricketer getting to exchange ideas with someone like Sunil Narine is so invigorating. The knowledge transfer has benefits for Indian cricket that are both tangible and intangible and extends beyond a particular player being picked up to play in the IPL.
Now, backed with the experience of a Ranji Trophy match and nine List A games for Tamil Nadu, Chakravarty could be bowling to some of the best batsmen in the world in IPL 2019. This is where the real test begins. No T20 league in the world is as testing as IPL. It’s a six-week rigour for players whose skills and temperament are not up to the mark, and it can affect the mind negatively.
So far, Chakravarty has been successful at a level where he has had a chance to use his seven variations as a spinner against batsmen who are not always at the top of their game. The tag of mystery spinner is well earned, but IPL’s demands will be different and he could immediately be exposed. Also, being the highest-bid player in one edition of the auction, which puts him in an elite club of MS Dhoni, Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen, Shane Bond, Kieron Pollard, Gautam Gambhir, Ravindra Jadeja, Glenn Maxwell, Yuvraj Singh, Shane Watson, Ben Stokes and Jaydev Unadkat, brings its share of pressure.
While most of the aforementioned names came with a reputation at the international level, Chakravarty’s rise to the top is diametrically opposite. He is not guaranteed to start in the XI that includes R Ashwin and Mujeeb-ur-Rahman.
Warming the bench brings its own set of hurdles, and in a highly charged, multi-cultural dressing room that gets together only for a few weeks, each player is expected to sort himself out without hampering the team’s overall morale. Chakravarty will be expected to be ready to deliver whenever his services are sought after, and how he goes about it will depend on his frame of mind.
Chakravarty obviously brings back memories of KC Cariappa, another mystery spinner who KKR bought for Rs 2.4 crore on the back of his Karnataka Premier League performances. He, however, failed to handle the expectations and slowly faded away.
The way players with almost no exposure at the highest level approach the game has evolved since the time Cariappa made headlines, and Chakravarty, from all his media interactions so far, comes across as a sensible character. The rejections at a young age have toughened him, but again when someone like Harbhajan Singh touts you to play for India in the future, it is not easy to be in the right headspace.
The case will be no different for Dube, who has already charmed the followers of domestic cricket with his six-hitting abilities. The way he hit five sixes in one over off Tambe in the Mumbai T20 League earlier this year was a brutal display of his power and game awareness, just like the repeat show against Swapnil Singh for Mumbai in the Ranji game against Baroda a day before the auctions.
His talent got the stamp of approval when Bangalore shelled out Rs 5 crore to buy him. The free-flowing bat swing and his body language bring back memories of a young Yuvraj Singh, but more importantly, Dube is a steady middle-order batsman who can bowl at a good pace – a priceless commodity in Indian cricket. Just by virtue of his profile, he has bypassed many others in the queue and is now behind Hardik Pandya and Vijay Shankar. A lot of eyes will be on Dube, and that his IPL captain is Virat Kohli, the most powerful person in Indian cricket and by extension world cricket, is both a glass half-full and half-empty situation for him.
Irrespective of whether Chakravarty and Dube click or not, they are great examples of a system that is now more accommodating for unique talents than ever before. That is a great encouragement for those waiting in the pipeline for their time under the sun.