One of the most impressive fall-outs from a decade of Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket is the manner in which it has contributed to the widening of talent pool. Today the selectors have no less than 30 players to call upon for berths in the Indian team and the selection of squad for the Asia Cup in UAE is a tribute to the enlarged pool.
For some time now it has been apparent that it is not only cash that flows during an IPL season. Youngsters get toughened with exposure to international players, coaches and training methods very early in their career and this in turn has hastened the development of the talented many.
Thus Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant and a whole host of others in the pool were spotted during IPL while performances on its big stage helped revive careers of Dinesh Karthik, Suresh Raina, Kedar Jadhav, et al. Five of the above — Bumrah, Chahal, Pandya, Karthik and Jadav currently find themselves in the national team for the Asia Cup.
Indeed, Indian cricket would be in a good place if young left-arm pacer Khaleel Ahmed, who has been called up for Asia Cup duty, also finds success before long. The 20-year-old has not had much exposure to competitive cricket but has had plenty of opportunities in IPL to pick the brains of two of the better fast bowlers in Indian cricket, Zaheer Khan and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar.
Zaheer was at hand to train him at Delhi Daredevils for two years before the Sunrisers Hyderabad contract last year brought him in close contact with Bhuvaneshwar, arguably India’s best fast bowler at the moment.
Khaleel Ahmed, if he comes good in the not too distant future, would add another string to the bow. The left-arm pacer is an investment for the future which includes the tour of Australia this winter and the World Cup in England next summer.
His bowling in the nets will be welcomed by the Indian batsmen as it will help prepare against the many Pakistani left-arm pacers. It would also benefit him as he’d be bowling to quality batsmen with considerable advice coming from the likes of bowling coach B Arun and fellow pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar. MS Dhoni will also be at hand to offer insights and fast forward the bowler’s development.
The selection of the tried and tested middle-order batsmen Kedar Jadhav, Ambati Rayudu and Manish Pandey is an acceptance that the selectors would bank on experience for the number four and number five spots, both of which are up for grabs for the World Cup squad.
Skipper Rohit Sharma might opt to open the batting with his deputy Shikhar Dhawan, leaving the rested Virat Kohli’s crucial number three spot to the third opener, KL Rahul.
The selectors have sprung a surprise by retaining Dinesh Karthik who had a disappointing tour of England. It is unlikely that he will be chosen ahead of Dhoni and as such the understudy job ought to have gone to young Rishabh Pant.
One suspects that Pant has been given a break to enable him to iron out his technique behind the stumps. He might well have a larger role to play in Australia and beyond.
The spin attack is in good hands. Kuldeep Yadav and Chahal are proven players in this format of the game. Axar Patel is the back-up though unlikely to be fielded in key encounters.
Pandya is the chosen all-rounder. The fact that the selectors have ignored others of the same ilk means that Pandya would be their man for all reasons.
While it is not clear if the selected players have cleared the Yo-Yo test, the selection of a strong, experienced team sends out a tough message to the opponents. Of course, the absence of Kohli might weaken the batting considerably. But all positions, from 1 to 7 — Rohit, Dhawan, Rahul, Rayudu, Pandey or Jhadav, Dhoni, Pandya — are manned by batsmen of proven international ability. It is in the quest for experience that Mayank Agarwal and Shreyas Iyer missed the bus. Experience triumphed promise, at least as far as batting selections went.
The bowling too is in dependable hands. Bhuvi, Bumrah, Pandya, Yadav and Chahal form a very settled attack, with Axar Patel and Shardul Thakur providing cover.
Thus, this team is a vote for hardened professionals, with Khaleel being the lone greenhorn in the mix. Even those brought back are no strangers to international cricket.
The Asia Cup provides them not just an opportunity to lay hands on a major international trophy, but also for the chosen few to strengthen their claims for other major tours. Come September should be more than a signal call for them.