Anirudha Srikkanth. Bharath Chipli. Paul Valthaty. Ambati Rayudu. These are young and not-so-young Indian batsmen, hardly household names until a week back, but names that now roll easily off the tongue as season four of the Indian Premier League enters its second week.
Finally, it would appear as if the IPL is beginning to realise one of its primary objectives – to unearth Indian talent, to bring latent, relatively hidden skills to the fore, and to do so in front of a global audience, thanks to satellite television.
Cash-rich and IPL have been synonymous from the time Lalit Modi’s brainchild bore fruit in early 2008, with cricket’s first player auction notable for the astronomical sums franchises were willing to shell out for big names. The IPL has been viewed by the sceptics and the cynics as little more than a money-making enterprise; perhaps, that view will change slightly, given the wonderful sequence of events that has unfolded in the last week.
Such is the genius of Sachin Tendulkar that he can’t stay away from the limelight for too long. But long before the little man made his maiden Twenty20 century, a string of lesser-known home-grown batsmen crashed the IPL IV party, none more spectacularly than Valthaty.
At 27, Valthaty is no spring chicken. He played for India in the under-19 World Cup in 2002 and was identified early as a special talent, but a combination of an untimely eye injury that threatened his career and the propensity of the young Indian player to quickly go off the radar kept him away from the big stage. Until, of course, his wonderfully crafted century against the Mumbai Indians, ironically the franchise based in the same city where he was born and honed his skills.
Like Valthaty, Chipli has been around for a long time. He is 28, has played 15 Ranji Trophy games for Karnataka, made two first-class hundreds but has been on the sidelines for more than two years now. He is attacking and intrepid, but during his first-class career – which might yet be resuscitated – he didn’t always embrace the consistency that an opener is expected to at this level.
Kings XI Punjab gave Valthaty the opportunity to flourish, to express himself on a massive stage; the Deccan Chargers have done likewise with Chipli. To the credit of the two men, they haven’t been seized by stage-fright. Instead, they have seized the moment, grabbed the chance by the scruff of the neck and made an early impact, an impact on which they must now build if they are not to be written off as one-season or one-knock wonders.
Manish Pandey’s IPL II exploits catapulted him to mini-icon status in 2009, and the first Indian centurion in the IPL fronted up his Protean blitzkrieg by becoming the country’s leading run-scorer in the 2009-10 Ranji season. He is still searching for that elusive India call-up, and once he serves his four-match ban and returns to the Pune Warriors’ fold, he won’t be unaware of the need to show off his wares if he is not to be left behind in the race for higher honours.
One man who had appeared to have missed the bus was Rayudu, the ridiculously talented Hyderabadi who voluntarily seemed to have chosen the path to self-destruction. He played one of the great innings in junior cricket with an incredible century for India under-19 in England in 2001, but issues with form, attitude, temperament and an ill-advised stint with the banned Indian Cricket League seemed to have nipped his international aspirations forever.
The stylish right-hander has been a patchy, inconsistent performer in domestic first-class cricket – he is no longer required by even Hyderabad, languishing as they are in the Plate division – but under Tendulkar at the Mumbai Indians, he has grown in stature. In a team replete with superstars, the little fella has carved a niche for himself, no mean feat that, though whether that translates itself into a string of big scores in first-class cricket remains to be seen.
Young Anirudha, son of dashing former India opener and current selection panel chairman Krishnamachari Srikkanth, is cut of the same cloth as his father but, as he pointed out innocently the other night, bats with ‘more sense’ than the former national skipper! He has obviously benefited hugely from sharing a dressing room with the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Muttiah Muralitharan, Mike Hussey and Stephen Fleming at Chennai Super Kings, is still only 23 and, therefore, in the best position of all, apart from Pandey, to cash in on his IPL exploits.
It’s in the success of the Indian component of the competition that the success of the IPL lies. “This is an Indian tournament, there are seven Indians in the playing eleven. The quality of the Indian players generally dictates the strength of your side,” said Fleming, now the coach of the Super Kings. “The other night, we saw the unearthing of a special talent.”
Fleming was referring to the Valthaty ton that put paid to Chennai’s hopes in a high-scoring battle of the Kings. “It was an innings full of flair. That is a great advantage for young Indian players who are exposed to experienced players within their dressing room. It was disappointing to be at the receiving end but I read about his injury during the under-19 World Cup. For him to come back from that and play an innings like this makes for a nice story, the type of fairytale story that the IPL is made of.”
The Yusuf Pathans and Ravindra Jadejas used the IPL as the stepping stone to India caps. If a few more can follow suit, then the IPL can rightfully take credit for being an assembly line, and not merely for bestowing ‘unreasonable’ gifts on the not-so-gifted.