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What the IPL means for these India hopefuls

LiveMint logoLiveMint 29-03-2017 Chetan Narula

Ahead of the Indian Premier League’s 2017 season, starting 5 April, Kuldeep Yadav made his Test debut in Dharamsala against Australia on Saturday.

He picked up 4-68 in the first innings of the fourth Test of the series, outshining the world’s two top-ranked spinners, R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

His Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Kolkata Knight Riders must have taken note. Playing their home games on the slow and turning pitches at Eden Gardens, the two-time champions see spin as their main weapon—Sunil Narine, Shakib Al Hasan and Piyush Chawla form their preferred troika.

The Eden Gardens pitch has more pace and bounce now, though, and given his exploits on a similar pitch in the Himalayas, it is safe to assume that Yadav—who featured in only three IPL games in 2016—will be a consideration for KKR’s first eleven.

Could an impressive IPL outing for Yadav then lead to a call-up in June for the International Cricket Council Champions Trophy, the starting point on the road to the 2019 ODI World Cup? Here’s a look at players whose performance in IPL 10 could resuscitate their international careers.

Suresh Raina

The lead-up to this India vs Australia fourth Test marked a significant happenstance. The Board of Control for Cricket in India announced its contract retainers for 2017-18, and Raina’s name was missing from the list.

He last played international cricket during the T20 series against England in January-February, an indication that he was still in contention for the Champions Trophy, and possibly beyond. He hasn’t featured in domestic limited-overs competitions since, skipping both the Vijay Hazare (List-A) and Syed Mushtaq Ali (Twenty20) tournaments.

He featured in only three Ranji Trophy games this season. Raina—who has played more IPL matches than any cricketer—will lead Gujarat Lions and his run in the forthcoming six-week tournament could define whatever remains of his cricket career.

Shikhar Dhawan

The last nine months have been a consistent down-curve for the opening batsman.

In the West Indies last summer, he had to battle for his Test spot. He lost it owing to injury when the New Zealand series came about. Since then, he has struggled to find his way back to the international stage in any format, with K.L. Rahul providing a more consistent alternative.

When the contracts were announced, Dhawan was downgraded from category B to C. It means he features in the selectors’ thoughts, but India currently have their bases covered across formats. Abhinav Mukund was named back-up opener for the Australia Test series, while Ajinkya Rahane is the back-up opener in ODIs.

Youngsters Mandeep Singh and Rishabh Pant are options for Twenty20 Internationals. This then puts the focus on Dhawan’s time with Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL.

He scored 501 runs in 17 matches in the 2016 IPL, and might have to do better to be in the reckoning for the Champions Trophy.

Harbhajan Singh/Yuvraj Singh

One other “senior” name comes into focus from this domestic List-A competition—Harbhajan Singh, 36, who is leading India-A. Though he last played international cricket (Twenty20) in March 2016, his name cropped up recently for the Champions Trophy.

It is an odd thought, given Ashwin, Jadeja and Amit Mishra are front-runners for the spinners’ slots, and there are only so many spinners you can take to England. Meanwhile, Harbhajan is an important cog in the Mumbai Indians’ wheel, and his IPL performance could keep the speculations going.

Yuvraj Singh was brought back into the ODI/T20 International fold against England in the January-February series. He delivered a career-best 150 in the second ODI in January, making him a certainty for the ICC tournament.

At age 35 though, form can taper off quickly. He has one half-century in four Vijay Hazare Trophy games for Punjab, and needs a bumper IPL for Sunrisers Hyderabad to reignite his confidence.

Manish Pandey/Shreyas Iyer/Rishabh Pant

Yuvraj’s inclusion in the January-February series meant that Manish Pandey had to sit out. The Karnataka batsman had scored only 76 runs in five ODIs against New Zealand in October, undoing everything he had achieved in scoring a maiden hundred in Sydney in January 2016.

It was in the 2014-15 season that he championed the cause of Karnataka (570 runs in 11 matches in Ranji Trophy) and KKR (401 runs in 16 matches in the 2014 IPL) in their respective title wins. Pandey needs to find his groove if he is to make a case for international inclusion again.

Two others have been on the fringes of international cricket—Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant. Like Pandey, Iyer’s career graph has been erratic. He grabbed the spotlight in the 2014-15 Ranji season with 809 runs in Mumbai’s campaign, and then scored 1,321 runs in 2015-16, helping Mumbai reclaim the title.

In between, he won the Emerging Player award in the 2015 IPL, with 439 runs in 14 matches. The 2016 IPL (30 runs in six matches) was quieter for him, and cost him the subsequent Zimbabwe tour.

Iyer has hit a reset button of late, scoring 725 runs this past Ranji season and 202 not out against Australia in a practice game, earning himself a call as Virat Kohli’s replacement for the fourth Test in Dharamsala.

The next six weeks with Delhi Daredevils might decide how soon he will take that final step and make his international debut.

Pant set the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy alight with 972 runs in eight matches. It was his strike rate of 107.28 that got him a spot in the T20 International squad against England. He made his debut in the third match at Bengaluru.

Pant’s Ranji form was in contrast to his 2016 IPL outing (198 runs in 10 matches). This season could be different though. The past year has honed his reputation, one that Delhi Daredevils hope he will live up to.

Chetan Narula is the author of Skipper—A Definitive Account Of India’s Greatest Captains

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