Since Irfan Pathan, India has hardly found an all-rounder who can bowl medium pace. While Abhishek Nayar has squandered opportunities to hog the limelight during various seasons of Indian Premier League, his impressive performances in NKP Salve Challenger Trophy might finally help him earn his rightful due ahead of the home series against Australia. Abhijit Banare elaborates upon the value of this fine all-rounder.
When we speak of left-handers, the earliest names that pop up, such as Brian Lara and Saeed Anwar, are remembered for the sheer elegance in their shots. But this left-hander has all that could bring a roughness to your eyes. Yet, every time he breezes through with scoring shots in the domestic matches, the spotlight somehow manages to stay over him. It’s been almost a decade since he made his Mumbai debut in the 2004-05 season, plenty of runs and crucial innings for the team have followed, but Abhishek Nayar is still not in the selectors’ radar.
He is among the rare set of all-rounders which India have struggled to find since Irfan Pathan. It’s been ages since we saw a medium-pace bowler who is equally strong with bat. Like many international teams where pace-bowling all-rounders provide a great balance to the team, the Mumbai team is no different. Similar to what Jacques Kallis, Shane Watson, Darren Sammy bring to their respective teams, thanks to Nayar and the ability of the lower-order to bat well, the 40-time Ranji Champions are among the few teams who consistently go ahead with five bowlers. In various domestic tournaments, the Ranji Trophy in particular, Nayar has hogged the limelight on many occasions, yet the national call-up remained elusive.
However, back-to-back impressive performances for India Blue in the NKP Salve Challenger Trophy have once again brought him in contention for a limited-overs series call-up. In the first game against Delhi, while the top-order crumbled, Nayar stood strong and counter-attacked the bowlers to put forth a perfect example of a match-winning innings of 91 runs. It’s these innings which make him a valuable player. Even with the ball he doesn’t have a scorching pace, but is really effective and a reliable bowling option.
Things have been great for Nayar in the domestic circuit; however, he’s yet to grab eyeballs where it really matters — the Indian Premier League. Twenty20 performances have often been regarded as a false parameter to judge the player’s value across formats, but it’s a bitter truth many domestic players have come to terms with. Someone like Shahbaz Nadeem or Parvinder Awana, who struggled to break into the domestic teams, earned a great deal of reputation and opportunities being in spotlight during the IPL. However, on this big stage Nayar’s records present a distorted version of his mighty abilities. The Mumbai all-rounder won’t disagree as well, since the experience in South Africa during the 2009 IPL helped him to sneak into the tour to West Indies. In 55 IPL matches he has managed just 629 runs at almost 17 per innings, while the bowling average — ideally should have been batting average — is 35.78. Seldom have we seen any match-winning performance in the league. Mumbai Indians first and Pune Warriors India recently have shelled out a huge amount on the all-rounder which shows the faith bestowed on him.
Nayar is not the only option. Players like Rajat Bhatia and Stuart Binny too are fine examples. Bhatia has been the backbone of the Delhi team but his performance with Kolkata Knight Riders helped him to crawl into the mainstream discussion, while Binny is already on the roll being part of the Rajasthan Royals. Moving ahead, for someone like Nayar it continues to be important to carry his good form in the upcoming Ranji season, but his recent records have already pushed him closer to national comeback. His performance against New Zealand A in the longer format as skipper were impressive as well.
It would be flying in the face of logic to say he is a frontrunner for an India berth, but as Nayar says in this interview to CricketCountry, he has done enough to be recognised by everyone, just that the opportunities haven’t come. With senior players like Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir securing a chance to make a point in the Challenger and India A matches, don’t be surprised if the 29-year-old finds himself in the home series against Australia purely on the basis of form if not for a long-term vision.
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)