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Young guns of Indian cricket who made an impact in 2016

India Today logo India Today 29-12-2016

The Indian cricket team has always been filled with superstars in its lineup be it in the Test format or limited-overs cricket. Since the departure of the fab-five of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag, the new batch of players like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohammed Shami have taken over the mantle under Mahendra Singh Dhoni's guidance.

Kohli and company have now become the senior players in the side with more than five years of experience under their belts. This year Indian cricket saw the emergence of five new players who made their mark in world cricket with their spectacular performances across all formats.

It's now time for the senior superstars to take a backseat for a while and let the youngsters shine and take world cricket by storm. Let's take a look at who were the top-five youngsters who made an impact with their cricketing skills this year, starting with the limited-overs performances.

Jasprit Bumrah: 8 ODIs, 17 wickets, 14.64 Average; 21 T20Is, 28 wickets, 18.82 Average

© AP Photo

Jasprit Bumrah's inclusion in the Indian team caught everybody's attention as here was a bowler who had a different action, a thin frame and not much experience to boast off. But he brought with him a particular skill set which the Indian team was looking for a very long time, death bowling.

Bumrah first came into the spotlight when he made his debut for the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League in 2013. Mumbai had handed him an IPL contract even before he had made his first-class debut so nobody really knew what he could do with a cricket ball in hand.

In his debut season, Bumrah played just two games and picked up three wickets. But it was his slingy bowling action which was more talked about than his performances. For the next two years he kept his place in the Mumbai Indians lineup but couldn't find a permanent place in the playing XI. He picked up just 8 wickets and played 15 matches in two seasons since making his debut.

An injury to Bhuvneshwar Kumar saw Bumrah boarding the flight to Australia as his replacement. And it was only when India had lost the series that Dhoni decided to try out his bench strength and gave Bumrah a chance in the fifth ODI at Sydney where he made an instant impact and world cricket saw the emergence of a new fast bowler with an unorthodox action but loads of talent.

Bumrah picked up two wickets in 10 overs and gave away just 40 runs. In this day and age, an economy rate of 4.00 is almost unheard of which is why Bumrah caught everybody's attention. He had been working closely with Lasith Malinga during his stint at Mumbai Indians and watched the death-over specialist at work.

Bumrah learned the art of bowling accurate yorkers from Malinga and applied the same principles in international cricket. Since his debut in January this year, Bumrah has picked up 17 wickets in 8 ODIs at 14.64 with an economy rate of 3.63. In T20Is he proved to be an invaluable asset for Dhoni as he grabbed 28 wickets in 21 matches at 18.82 and an economy of 6.62. No bowler in the world, not even his mentor Malinga, has picked up as many wickets in T20Is in a calendar year.

Hardik Pandya: 4 ODIs, 45 runs, 4 wickets; 16 T20Is, 78 runs, 15 wickets

© AP Photo

Mumbai Indians gave the national side another gem of a player in Hardik Pandya. Again, just like in Bumrah's case, India have been looking for a fast-bowling all-rounder and Hardik seems to be the solution that they have come up with. The 23-year-old can bowl at speeds of over 135 kmph, hold his own with the bat in the middle-order and is a superb fielder in the outfield.

Hardik was also not a regular in the Mumbai Indians' playing XI but he showed potential whenever he got a chance to play. Hardik first came into spotlight when he made an unbeaten 31-ball 61 against Kolkata Knight Riders in 2015 and then performed brilliantly for Baroda in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament where he scored 377 runs in 10 matches and took 10 wickets.

Hardik got a call up to the national team for the three-match T20I series in Australia where he picked three wickets from three matches and impressed everybody with his agile fielding. He then had an ordinary series against Sri Lanka but kept his place in the side for the Asia Cup in Bangladesh and then the World Twenty20 in India.

Hardik bowled superbly in the Asia Cup and picked up seven wickets off five matches as India went on to clinch the title. He was the highest wicket-taker for India ahead of Bumrah who got six scalps. But it was the subsequent World Twenty20 where Hardik became a star, thanks to his performance in the match against Bangladesh.

India were facing a do-or-die situation in the group stages after losing the opening match against New Zealand. They hammered arch-rivals Pakistan in the second game and faced Bangladesh next. Defending a paltry total of 119 in a rain-curtailed match, Hardik was given the responsibility of bowling the last over with Bangladesh needing three runs to win.

Hardik showed nerves of steel as he defended the score and emerged as the new star for India. He then made his debut in the ODI series against New Zealand and went on to pick four wickets and scored 36 runs in four games.

Lokesh Rahul: 3 ODIs, 196 runs, 196.00 Average; 5 T20Is, 179 runs, 89.50 Average

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Lokesh Rahul had already impressed everyone with his performances in Test cricket last year where he scored 252 runs in four matches including two hundreds which he slammed against Australia in Sydney and against Sri Lanka in Colombo.

He carried over his form from Test cricket into the IPL where he hammered 397 runs in 14 matches at an average of 44.11 with four half-centuries to his name. He was the third highest run-scorer for Royal Challengers Bangalore this year which helped him break into the Indian limited-overs team.

India toured Zimbabwe for a short series of three ODIs and as many T20Is with Dhoni in charge of a young team. Senior pros like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan were given a break which gave Rahul an opportunity to make his debut.

The 24-year-old started off his ODI career with a bang by slamming an unbeaten debut hundred at Harare and then followed it up with a half-century in the final match to finish with 199 runs in the series. He bagged the Player of the Series and gave an apt reply to his critics who were branding him as a 'Test-only' material. He scored a duck on his T20I debut on that tour but fought back with scores of 47* and 22 in the next two matches as India clinched the series against Zimbabwe 2-1.

The West Indies tour saw Rahul scoring his third Test hundred in the second match of the series. He made 158 in the Jamaica Test which ended in a draw. Looking at his form in whites and his exploits in the IPL and in Zimbabwe, India decided to persist with him in the T20Is against West Indies in the United States.

Rahul hammered an unbeaten 110 in the first match at Lauderhill to become only the third Indian batsman after Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma to score a hundred in all three formats of the game. But his heroics went in vain as India lost the match by one run while the next match got washed out.

Jayant Yadav: 3 Tests, 221 runs, 73.66 Average, 9 wickets

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Jayant Yadav came into national reckoning this year thanks to his outstanding contributions for Haryana in the domestic circuit. In his debut Ranji Trophy match in 2011, Yadav picked up six wickets against Gujarat which saw Haryana win by 140 runs.

A year later Yadav slammed 211 runs against Karnataka and shared a record-breaking stand of 392 for the eighth wicket with Amit Mishra, who remained unbeaten on 202. Haryana posted a mammoth 587 in their first innings and the match ended in a draw but Yadav made the headlines. His breakthrough year came in the 2014-15 Ranji Trophy season when he picked up 33 wickets to finish as the highest wicket-taker for Haryana.

Looking at his consistency and ability with the bat, Yadav was handed his India cap in the second Test against England in November this year where he picked up four wickets and scored 62 runs in two innings as India clinched victory by 246 runs to take a 1-0 series lead at Vizag.

The next Test in Mohali saw Yadav come into his own. He took two wickets in the first innings as England got bundled out for 283 and then scored his maiden half-century during an 80-run partnership for the eighth-wicket with Ravindra Jadeja as India took the first innings lead by 134 runs. Yadav took another couple of wickets in the second innings which helped India bowl out England for 236. Parthiv Patel's quickfire half-century saw India chase down the target of 104 with 8 wickets in hand and clinch a 2-0 series lead.

Yadav followed up on his half-century with his maiden hundred in the next game in Mumbai where he along with Virat Kohli scored a record 241 runs for the eighth-wicket to help India take 231-run lead in the first innings. Kohli scored 235 runs, his third double hundred in 2016, as India won the match by an innings and 36 runs to take an unassailable 3-0 series lead.

Karun Nair: 3 Tests, 320 runs, 160.00 Average

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No praise will be high enough for what Karun Nair did in the fifth and final Test against England in Chennai. After scoring heavily in the domestic circuit for Karnataka, Karun got a chance to shine in the longer format for India and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Karun, who was run out on four in his debut Test at Mohali and made just 13 runs in Mumbai, became only the second Indian after Virender Sehwag to score a triple hundred in Test cricket as he remained unbeaten on 303 and his massive knock helped India take a mammoth 282-run lead over England, who had scored 477 in their first innings in the Chennai Test. The visitors had to bat again on the final day and were blown away by Ravindra Jadeja who grabbed a career-best 7 for 48 in the final two sessions to bundle out England for 207. India won the match by an innings and 75 runs and clinched the series 4-0.

Nair's knock which came in only his third innings, made him the quickest ever to achieve the feat. Before him, Len Hutton had achieved the landmark in his ninth innings.

The 25-year-old also became the third Indian after Dilip Sardesai and Vinod Kambli to convert their maiden Test hundred into a double century. He however, went onto become the first Indian and third overall to convert their maiden Test hundred to a triple century. Garry Sobers (365*) and Bob Simpson (311) were the other two.

Nair's knock was also the highest by an Indian against England as he surpassed captain Virat Kohli's 235, which he scored in Mumbai.

Before joining the Indian team, Nair proved his credentials by amassing runs consistently in the domestic circuit. In his 37 first-class matches, Nair has scored 2,845 runs at an average of 52.68.

He had an impressive 2013-14 Ranji Trophy season and also helped Karnataka win the title after 15 years, by scoring hundreds in the quarter-final and semi-final. In the 2014-15 Ranji Trophy final, Nair again proved to be a big match player by scoring a triple hundred and helping Karnataka retain the title.

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