IPL 2017: Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and other top Indian players to watch out for
A glance at some of the leading Indian names in the upcoming IPL, including T Natarajan, who made headlines in the player auction with a Rs 3 crore price tag.
Now that the craze over the closely fought India-Australia Test series is over (with the Indians registering a 2-1 series win), it is only a matter of time before the craze of Twenty20 cricket takes over the country.
It is that time of the year when India welcomes another edition of its lucrative T20 extravaganza, the Indian Premier League (IPL). The tournament, which will be its 10th edition, is set to kick off on 5 April, just six days after the official conclusion of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad and runners-up Royal Challengers Bangalore are set to collide in the opening clash of the tournament in the former's turf, with Maharashtra franchises Mumbai Indians and Rising Pune Supergiants taking on each other on the following day.
With the rise of new superstars in the shortest format of the game since the last tournament (as well as the re-emergence of certain old faces), there is a lot to be anticipated from the upcoming tournament. Among the names to watch out for will be first time players from associate countries (Afghanistan in this case), who will get to ply their skills in the premier T20 league in the world.
While we could spend an entire day discussing the players to watch out for come April, the following list is narrowed down to 10 of the most exciting Indian prospects, arranged in no certain order:
Virat Kohli (Royal Challengers Bangalore)
The Indian skipper might have struggled in the recent Test series against Australia, but that does little to diminish his stature as the leading Indian batting superstar and the most marketable cricketer in the world at the moment.
Kohli enjoyed a talismanic year in 2016, which saw him scale dizzying heights while establishing himself as one of the leading run-getters across formats that year. He enjoyed an astonishing run while leading RCB in the ninth edition of the league, racking up a run tally 27 short of the 1,000 mark, including four centuries.
His efforts played the central role in leading the Bengaluru-based franchise to the final that year, in which they were stopped short by SRH. Needless to say, his charismatic presence will be key to RCB’s chances of securing their maiden title.
MS Dhoni (Rising Pune Supergiant)
The most successful captain of all time in the league’s history, having led Chennai Super Kings to title victory on two occasions (2010 and 2011), aside from finishing as runners-up on four different occasions (2008, 2012, 2013 and 2015). Such was his presence in the franchise that he almost became synonymous with the yellow team.
His stint with Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) however, did not turn out to be quite as successful, with the team finishing second-last in the points table in the previous edition. Heading into this year’s tournament, he had stepped down from captaincy, with the role ultimately going to Australian captain Steve Smith.
Whether he is able to execute his helicopter shots better without the burden of captaincy is something that we will be able to find out in a few days’ time.
Rohit Sharma (Mumbai Indians)
If there is one thing that the Mumbai Indians skipper has been able to do that Sachin Tendulkar couldn’t, it is helping the team lift the title. Except, Rohit managed to accomplish that twice (2013 and 2015).
The dashing batsman, who holds the record for the highest individual innings score in one-day internationals (264), is a central figure in the Mumbai Indians batting lineup, and produced a few gems last year even as his side failed to make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
His appearance in the Vijay Hazare Trophy earlier this month was his first in competitive cricket since his injury break that stretched back to the end of the New Zealand ODI series in October. The team management though, will pray for him to be in top form by the time Mumbai take on Rising Pune Supergiant on 6 April.
Gautam Gambhir (Kolkata Knight Riders)
The fact that KKR charted a meteoric rise from the bottom of the heap to being crowned champion on two different occasions can be widely credited to southpaw from Delhi. Since Gambhir took over as captain of the franchise from Sourav Ganguly in 2011, the team has only risen in stature.
He is the second-most successful captain of all time in the league’s history, having won 61 of the 105 games he played as captain, which includes the 2009 season with the Delhi Daredevils. Much like most of the previous editions, Gambhir led from the front with the bat last year, amassing 501 runs at an average of 38.53 that helped the team reach the play-offs.
KL Rahul (Royal Challengers Bangalore)
The Karnataka opener showed a glimpse of what he is capable of in the shortest format of the game by slamming a century on T20I debut. Prior to that feat, he had been progressing up the ranks steadily in the domestic circuit, and made his first big impression in international cricket with a century in Sydney during the Test series in Australia in 2014-15.
Having returned to RCB last year after a couple of seasons with SRH, Rahul impressed one and all with a tally of 397 runs, the efforts of which were vastly overshadowed by bigger batting stars in Kohli and AB de Villiers.
Having enjoyed a consistent run in India’s long home season, with five half-centuries coming in the Australia Test series, Rahul will look to set the league on fire and get himself into the top 10 run-getters for the first time.
Jasprit Bumrah (Mumbai Indians)
Bumrah has been one of Mumbai Indians’ best finds of recent times, and his discovery has led to the Indian cricket team finding a death-overs specialist for the shorter formats. While it might take him a while to break into the Test team, he already has made himself an indispensable unit for the Indians in ODIs and T20Is.
With a slinging action that closely resembles that of his idol Lasith Malinga, and gifted with the ability to find the batsman’s blockhole with perfectly-aimed yorkers, Bumrah has bowled many a match-winning spell, especially in the final overs of the game, and a lot will be expected from him as he shares the new ball with Australian pace great Mitchell Johnson.
Ashish Nehra (Sunrisers Hyderabad)
If one was to draw Nehra’s career graph, the crests and troughs would be of extreme proportions, with the latter probably being more dominant. Having made tremendous impact under the captaincy of Ganguly, Nehra slowly faded into the oblivion over the years, and was even forgotten for some time.
Just when the only though pertaining to the pacer from Delhi was that of his imminent retirement, he took 22 wickets for CSK in the 2015 edition. Such was the impact of his performance that it led to his return to the Indian team in January next year, albeit in the T20I side. Life hasn’t quite been the same for him ever since.
Rishabh Pant (Delhi Daredevils)
The young wicketkeeper-batsman from the state of Uttarakhand has already been singled out as the next big thing in Indian cricket.
Having played cricket in Delhi during his formative years, Pant made his first big impression during the U-19 World Cup last year in Bangladesh, in which he struck a record-breaking half-century against Nepal, and later went on to score a century against Namibia.
Among the benefits that such raging form brought him was an IPL contract, although he had a lukewarm season for the struggling side, scoring 198 runs in 10 innings at an average of 24.75 while opening the batting for the side alongside Quinton de Kock. His recent selection into the Indian team however, would have done his confidence a world of good, and the kind of performances that it leads to this season remains to be seen.
Hardik Pandya (Mumbai Indians)
Another one of Mumbai Indians’ recent discoveries, the younger Pandya sibling shot to prominence around the same time as Bumrah. With his ability to work with both the new and old ball, as well as his ability to adapt to the situation with the bat has made him an invaluable all-rounder to the Mahela Jayawardene-coached side.
Pandya did not have the best of time in the previous season, with older brother Krunal taking the cake with his all-round performances.
While he has had a noteworthy performance or two in the recent home season (including an all-round show against England in the lost ODI), it were his exploits in the recent Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy that brought him back to the limelight, topping the run-charts (377 at an average of 53.85), while collecting 10 wickets.
T Natarajan (Kings XI Punjab)
When you get picked by a franchise for a whopping Rs 3 crore with a total of 14 appearances in domestic cricket, there are a few eyebrows that are bound to be raised. Except, Thangarasu Natarajan might have shined at the right time, probably on the very day league scouts were sitting in the stands and watching him.
Left-arm medium pacer Natarajan’s key to getting picked up the Kings XI Punjab was his performance in the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) last year, in which he took 10 wickets for Dindigul Dragons at an impressive average of 7.5. That was then followed by an equally impressive outing for Tamil Nadu in the subsequent Ranji Trophy that made him a hot prospect for the bidders ahead of the IPL 10 player auction.
This is a special team that Kohli has built. They have conquered MCG, Gabba, Lord's and Oval, all in a space of 10 months. They have the momentum on their side. And with the adrenaline running high, Manchester doesn't look too far away.
Earlier, reports had emerged that Kohli might step down as the captain in the limited-overs format of the game, handing the reins over to Rohit Sharma.
Umesh brought joy back into the India camp with Root's wicket in the penultimate over.