India's young guns were the talking points in the group stage of IPL 10    AFP/BCCI
India’s young guns were the talking points in the group stage of IPL 10 AFP/BCCI

A day before Indian Premier League (IPL) 2017, I was enjoying my weekoffs. After relishing my first stint of covering a live series in Greater Noida (between Afghanistan and Ireland), I was the ‘opening batsman’ of CricketCountry for IPL 10. In simpler terms, I was assigned the live blog for the opening contest between defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad and 2016’s finalists Royal Challengers Bangalore. Personally, I am bored of IPL (just like the overuse of ‘cash-rich league’ referred for India’s premier domestic T20 tournament). However, I was reminded of its essence by a 16-year-old boy while travelling in Mumbai’s most common mode of transport; i.e. local trains.

While travelling to Kandivali from Vashi (a 90-minutes long ride), I did something we Indians love to do. I ‘overheard’ two youngsters, with cricket kitbags, blabbering about IPL. They were excited and it was evident by their loud voice and tone. I joined in. My only aim was to know if ‘Test cricket’ holds some significance in their minds. I failed but they made me realise that IPL is more than just being ‘overdose-of-cricket’. “Aree young Indian stars ko dekhne mein mazza aata hai. Woh Sarfaraz Khan kya khela tha RCB ke liye (in 2015). Isiliye IPL mast hai”, quoted one of the boys. (It is pleasing to see young Indian stars perform. RCB’s Sarfaraz Khan played some entertaining innings in 2015 edition. This way, IPL is fun).

Belonging to the old-school, I still cherish the longer format amidst constant threat of its popularity declining. Nonetheless, I knew the young ones had a point. They knew the essence and purpose of IPL’s advent. The sole aim is to benefit India’s domestic talents. After all, they rub shoulders with not only the country’s superstars of the game, but also interact with big international stars on a wide platform. The learning and experience takes a complete U-turn. Hence, there have been some ‘rising talents’ in each edition and the ongoing 2017 season has been no less.

We are into the knockout stages but have already witnessed some youngsters make a mark. From Rising Pune Supergiant‘s (RPS) opener Rahul Tripathi, Delhi Daredevils‘ (DD) dashing wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant to SRH’s Siddharth Kaul, several youngsters have caused a stir in the tenth edition.

Rahul Tripathi: The Maharashtra batsman was unheard of before IPL 10. RPS commenced their campaign with Ajinkya Rahane opening the innings alongside Mayank Agarwal. However, the latter’s reckless form did not help team’s cause. His early departures added responsibility on Rahane which, in turn, hurt the side. The team management brought in the ever-smiling Tripathi and it proved to be a masterstroke. The right-hander’s aggressive style of batting not only complimented Rahane’s textbook-technique, but also eased pressure off the latter.

In no time, Tripathi notched up impressive scores and took the team to a flying start. Till date, he has four scores in excess of 30, one forty and a fine 95 (versus Kolkata Knight Riders). His knack of shimming down the track and altering the bowler’s length have got everyone’s attention. His well-timed cuts, pulls and lusty cover drives have become a regular feature of his innings. As a result, RPS have managed to spring good scores on the board and will look up to him in the playoffs as well. His arrival triggered RPS’ change in fortunes, which speaks volumes of his ability.

Rishabh Pant: Media dwelled a lot on Pant’s father’s demise. Not because they were concerned. But they eyed pageviews and TRPs banking on an emotionally-driven nation. Nonetheless, Pant did not bog down and showed enough character despite his personal loss and unnecessary limelight. Kudos to the 19-year-old. Indian cricket surely have a star-in-the-making. He has the right attitude and possesses an aggressive mindset. He started IPL 10 with a fighting fifty against RCB in a losing cause. It was followed by some blistering cameos, including a 26-run over smacking senior pro Umesh Yadav all round the park.

“He (Pant) does not play pre-mediated strokes. He instead reads the length before the ball is pitched. After accessing that, he decides the swing of his back-lift. If it is in the slot, his bat ends up dangling it onto his hips. And if he is cramped for room, he manoeuvres it with his rubbery wrists. An amalgamation of power and finesse, Pant, in all probability, is a reservoir of talent”, quotes my colleague Kaustubh Mayekar.

Pant had a lean phase as well. With 3 ducks and few low scores, the left-hander still has a long way to go in terms of consistency. But the ingredients and flair in his batting surely kept us glued. His most-loved knock was a 43-ball 97 against Gujarat Lions (GL) at Ferozshah Kotla. He not only earned the Man of the Match award, but also won accolades from Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar called the knock one of the finest in IPL ever.

Sanju Samson: The 22-year-old has some IPL experience under his belt. Having played for Rajasthan Royals (RR) and involved with DD since 2016, Samson has made a mark with some attractive knocks. He may not be regarded as an ’emerging player’, but has worked on his consistency to some extent. Samson shone with some flamboyant innings in the ongoing edition and remained slightly more consistent than before. With 386 runs (1 hundred and 2 fifties) and a staggering strike-rate of 141.39, Samson grew as a batsman in IPL 10.

“I think this edition, (Sanju) Samson has done his job quietly. He has become slightly more consistent”, stated my senior Suvajit Mustafi during a discussion on the rising talents of this season. Surely, he seems to be ticking ‘some’ boxes.

Shreyas Iyer: DD failed to qualify for the playoffs but their young Indian stars continued to impress. Like Pant and Samson, Iyer again justified his spot in DD’s line-up. He was their highest run-scorer in his debut IPL season in 2015 and continued to progress. With an average of 33.8, Iyer slammed two fifties and took the opposition by surprise with his confident strokeplay. He surely ’emerged’ with a mature innings against GL, slamming a 57-ball 96, in match 50 and gave a sneak peek into his mindset. He carried his bat amidst regular breakthroughs, played his shots and took the game till the final over. A very MS Dhoni-esque innings, but sadly he was not there during the winning shot.

Dravid also needs to be credited for DD’s youngsters rise!

Ishan Kishan: Kishan, India’s U-19 skipper in the last World Cup, continued to serve GL in 2017. In 11 games, the wicketkeeper-batsman scored 277 runs at a strike-rate of 134.46. The most astonishing fact of Kishan’s form was that he provided good starts and kept the scoreboard ticking despite constant change in batting position. Kishan batted with the likes of Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith and took calculative risks like a typical modern-day batsman. With a top score of 61, his composed head and ability to rotate the strike keeps him in good stead for future. In addition, he even plays the pull shot to perfection.

Kuldeep Yadav: Debuting for India in the series decider of Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2016-17, Kuldeep carried his form into the shortest format. Playing in 12 games, the Chinaman bowler scalped 12 wickets. His most memorable moment came when he got the better of former Indian skipper, Dhoni, on consecutive occasions. Kuldeep has grown as a bowler in his brief career. The left-arm unorthodox spinner does not shy away from tossing up the ball, backs his strengths, resorts to his googlies viciously and gives variety to his captain. He is already picked as a back-up for India’s Champions Trophy 2017. A good future lies ahead for the youngster.

Siddharth Kaul: The 26-year-old medium pacer has stood tall for SRH in limited appearances. In 9 games, Kaul has 16 wickets and even features in the Purple Cap holder’s list with likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Imran Tahir. Kaul won accolades for standing tall versus a firing-Dhoni in SRH’s away game versus RPS. Though he could not defend 11 runs in the final over, he stretched the game till the last ball. Kaul again impressed with a 4-for in his side’s home game versus RPS.

Kaul has been a revelation mainly due to pace, low full tosses and yorkers in the death overs. With more exposure, he will be a force to reckon with in India’s future bowling arsenal.

Basil Thampi: GL struggled to defend scores due to erratic bowling in IPL 10. Nonetheless, Thampi won praises despite his side’s forgettable run. In 12 games, the 23-year-old pacer picked up 11 wickets. His economy of 9.49 was on the higher side, but Thampi impressed with variations and ability to bowl in death overs. His toe-crunching yorkers, full length deliveries and slower ones were deceived by the batsmen. He maintained a tight spell in the fag end of the innings and was the go-to-bowler for Suresh Raina. With best figures of 3 for 29 in the only ‘Super Over’ game of the league stage, Thampi delivered in crunch situations.

“It’s really amazing to see an Indian pacer bowling yorkers consistently. Brilliant bowling by (Basil) Thampi”, stated Abhishek Kumar, another colleague of mine.

Mohammed Siraj: Another SRH sensation in the bowling department has been Siraj. Bought for a whopping 2.6 crores (base price 20 lakhs), Siraj has got 6 games so far. He scalped 10 wickets at an economy rate of over 9. Surely, the 23-year-old will learn to curb the run flow, but he has promised a lot with yorkers and slower ones targeting the stumps. The icing on the cake was his match-winning performance against GL which ensured SRH a playoff berth. In their last group stage clash, SRH were in a spot of bother against with Kishan-Dwayne Smith adding 111 runs for the opening stand. David Warner’s side got their first breakthrough courtesy Rashid Khan, but Siraj broke GL’s backbone with a 4-for.

Siraj was rewarded for changing his speed, bowling the yorkers and keeping it full and straight. He usually bowls in the off-side corridor and will need to adapt in different situations especially in a rapid format like T20s.

Note: Warner also needs to be credited for backing Kaul and Siraj.

Nitish Rana: After tasting defeat in their first match, MI rose from strength to strength and much of their early success goes to Rana. The Delhi lad has played alongside his state’s renowned players like Mithun Manhas, Gautam Gambhir and Shikhar Dhawan. He held his nerves in some crunch games during the initial stage of the tournament. Rana slammed a match-winning 29-ball 50 in a close encounter versus KKR. He did not do anything silly and took the game till the last few overs and accelerated when required. He continued his rich form with fifties against GL and KXIP. Rana has blown hot and cold since then, but has managed to pile up 333 runs in 13 games. He has become a vital cog in MI’s line-up and will be expected to turn the heat in the playoffs.

Special Mentions:

Apart from the Tripathis, Ranas and Pants, there have been other stars as well. KXIP managed to stretch their campaign courtesy a fine spin bowling performance by Rahul Tewatia against KKR. In 3 games, he picked up 3 wickets under an economy rate of 5.44, including a match-winning 2 for 18. RCB’s Ankit Chowdhary featured in 5 games and took 5 scalps at 8.55 per over. Even RPS’ Shardul Thakur (8 wickets from 11 games) and Washington Sundar (economy rate of just over 7) have done reasonably good. Had these young guns played more, they may have featured in the main list as well.

To sum it up, the tournament retains its fan-base each year courtesy domestic stars’ performances. IPL 10’s now-familiar jingle Yeh dus saal aapke naam [we dedicate these ten years to you] truly belongs to these upcoming stars apart from fans and spectators. They restore faith in the event and sign off with a promise to keep Indian cricket’s flag high when the baton is ready to be passed onto them.