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Early movers and shakers in the Indian Premier League

It’s early days yet, but here are some newcomers as well as veterans have hit the ground running at the IPL

Ayush Badoni in action for Lucknow Super Giants. (PTI)

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Few had heard of 22-year-old Ayush Badoni before this IPL season began. Which isn’t surprising, because the last time he came into the limelight was four years ago, when he made an unbeaten 52 in 28 balls in the 2018 Asia Cup final at the Under-19 level. He also made an unbeaten 185 in a youth Test. Ignored by state selectors thereafter, and unsold in three IPL auctions, Badoni’s career was in the doldrums. Then, out of the blue, came a fair wind. 

Former India opener Gautam Gambhir, who won two IPL titles for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), saw the potential in Badoni that Delhi’s selectors didn’t. Currently the mentor of a new IPL franchise, he got Badoni for Lucknow Super Giants (LSG) at his base price of 20 lakh at the auction, and then pushed him into the playing 11 from game one. 

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LSG lost that game narrowly to another new franchise, Gujarat Titans (GT). But Badoni’s 54 in 41 balls in his debut game, when his team was reeling at 29/4, was a talking point. To see a diminutive newbie in the league slog-sweeping ace leg-spinner Rashid Khan for six and hooking a near-150 kmph Lockie Ferguson bouncer for another one was exhilarating. 

He followed that up with another cool hand under pressure, scoring 19 runs in 9 balls at the death to help LSG cross a tall target of 211 against last year’s IPL title winners, Chennai Super Kings (CSK). His 19 in 12 balls in the third game helped set up another LSG win. The finisher role at No. 6 is a hard one to master because of the flexibility it requires. Young Badoni has shown he can rebuild an innings or hit out from the word go depending on the match situation.  

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Badoni’s composure and shot-making have already marked him out as an India prospect. LSG captain KL Rahul had only seen a video of Badoni’s batting until the latter arrived at the LSG camp and impressed everyone over a couple of practice games. Such is the power of the IPL in discovering talent.

Tilak Varma of Mumbai Indians (MI) is another youngster who has caught the eye with his fluent strokes, getting 22 in 15 balls in his first game and top-scoring for MI with 61 in 33 balls in the second game. Unlike Badoni, Varma had a track record in domestic cricket which took him to 1.7 crore in bidding at the auction. Now, playing under India skipper Rohit Sharma in a high profile franchise is as good a platform as it gets for the talented 19-year-old left-hander. 

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Among new bowlers on the scene, 24-year-old Vaibhav Arora of Punjab Kings (PBKS) got off to an impressive start with 2 wickets for 21 runs in 4 overs on the trot with the new ball at the Brabourne Stadium against CSK. His ability to swing the ball both ways will make him a constant threat as he gains more experience to keep batsmen under pressure. 

For sheer pace, 22-year-old Umran Malik from Kashmir is unmatched, clocking 152.5 kmph for the fastest ball in this year’s IPL so far. He’s still raw, conceding over 10 an over without the experience to mix it up, but his potential was evident in his dismissal of Jos Buttler with a fast ball that swung. He has a good chance to develop his repertoire under the tutelage of Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) bowling coach Dale Steyn, the former spearhead of South Africa’s pace attack. 

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It’s not only newcomers who are turning heads by performing beyond expectations. Established players have found a new lease of life after a shift to a more encouraging franchise at the auction. The prime example of this is Umesh Yadav, a fast bowler who turns 35 this year and has been virtually written off from white ball cricket in the past three years. He did not get a single game last year for Delhi Capitals (DC) who had a strong bowling unit in Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, and Avesh Khan. Earlier, Virat Kohli-led Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) let him go after two poor seasons of taking few wickets and conceding around 10 an over. 

You can imagine the surprise of his previous franchises to see Umesh Yadav top the bowling chart this season with eight wickets in his first three games for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at an economy rate below five. That’s as good as it gets. So, what’s changed?

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Yadav has always had the gift of pace and swing. KKR’s new skipper Shreyas Iyer has used that to the hilt by giving him extended spells with the new ball. Pace bowlers have also appreciated the conditions, as curators have left grass and ample moisture on the wickets to ensure they last a long season of 74 matches being played at only four grounds. Most of all, the experienced fast bowler appears more relaxed under Iyer’s captaincy.

Left-arm leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav is also relishing the confidence shown in him by his new captain, Rishabh Pant, who has been setting attacking fields to get the most out of the former India star’s wicket-taking ability. Kuldeep has taken four wickets in DC’s first two games, which is just one wicket less than the total of five he got in 14 games for KKR in the 2019 and 2020 seasons under the captaincy of Dinesh Karthik. He was almost written off after not appearing at all in last year’s IPL. But now, both the Yadavs could vie for spots in the Indian team ahead of the T20 World Cup later this year.

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Apart from bowlers, batsmen, and new captains, the two new franchises in the IPL are off to a flying start. Gujarat Titans (GT) led by Hardik Pandya won both their games in the first week, and Lucknow Super Giants (LSG) led by KL Rahul have won two of their first three games, losing one narrowly to GT.

GT’s win over DC, whilst defending a modest total of 171 in Pune, is a testament to the strength of their bowling trio of Mohammed Shami, Lockie Ferguson, and Rashid Khan. Skipper Hardik Pandya’s apparent return to full fitness, judging from the full quota of overs he bowled economically in the DC game, will strengthen his case for a return to the Indian team. His captaincy too has been impressive, inspiring his band with an attacking mindset.

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LSG’s captain KL Rahul has also looked more convincing in his new stint compared to the previous two seasons in which he had led Punjab Kings. He has been more risk-taking with the bat, like in his earlier avatar before captaincy crimped his style. He has been more aggressive in the field too, apparently learning the lessons from failing as India’s ODI skipper in South Africa earlier this year with a defensive mindset. The mentorship of Gautam Gambhir, one of the IPL’s most successful captains, will help him not only in leading LSG well but also in cementing his claim to the vice-captaincy of the Indian team.

There’s a lot to cheer for Indian cricket from the first phase of IPL 2022. The tournament itself has got a shot in the arm with the two new franchises hitting the road running. In fact, languishing at the bottom of the table, alongside SRH, are the IPL’s two most successful franchises, MI and CSK. That speaks volumes for the competitiveness of the league. 

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru.

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