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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

IPL: not a real training ground

Why the Indian Premier League showcases cricketing talent but may not be the place to find stars who will ace all formats of the game

Does the Indian Premier League (IPL) really throw up fresh talent and can the money-spinning Twenty20 tournament be a launch pad for international cricket? The chairman of selectors, Krishnamachari Srikkanth, believes so. During a match recently, he said on television that the selectors watch every match to scout for potential.
Paul Valthaty: Can he carry his IPL form to One Day Internationals? AP
Paul Valthaty: Can he carry his IPL form to One Day Internationals? AP
Paul Valthaty’s rise to prominence in the ongoing fourth edition has helped buttress this argument ahead of Friday’s team selection for the One Day series in the West Indies starting next month. The 27-year-old opener is being hailed as the new find, at least in the shortest format of the game, after a string of spectacular knocks for Kings XI Punjab. The cricketer from Mumbai is yet to earn his first-class stripes.An eye injury during the 2002 under-19 World Cup in New Zealand almost ended Valthaty’s cricket dreams. He played in just one first-class One Day match in 2006 and there was a lull before Rajasthan Royals threw him a lifeline in the 2009 IPL season in the domestic player category, paving the way for his entry into the Mumbai T20 team. A few powerful performances for Mumbai in the domestic T20 competition won him a contract with Kings XI this season: He’s made a mark with a century against Chennai Super Kings, and followed it up with a sparkling 75 against Deccan Chargers.
If Valthaty keeps up his form, will it open the doors to international cricket?
The answer is both yes and no. It is true that the IPL is an international stage that enables greater exposure. But the format is low in significance outside the biennial T20 World Cup and there are doubts about whether those who’ve gained their stripes in Twenty20 have the basic skills and temperament to make the big jump to One Day International (ODI) and Test cricket. The likes of Valthaty may have to prove they can indeed do it.
For while Twenty20 cricket is gaining popularity, thanks largely to global interest in the multimillion-dollar IPL, its significance is limited. In a move to help each of the three formats retain their importance and identity, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has restricted the number of T20 internationals to be played by a country in a season to a maximum of seven matches, with no more than two in any bilateral series. So countries are yet to send T20 specialists on tours, as is the case in Test and ODI cricket.
Experienced ODI campaigners just need to make minor adjustments to adapt to the demands of the T20 game; it’s not so for those raised on Twenty20 cricket.
David Warner: Aconsistent T20 player who failed in ODIs. PTI
David Warner: Aconsistent T20 player who failed in ODIs. PTI
David Warner is a case in point. The aggressive opener bought by Delhi Daredevils for $750,000 (Rs. 3.35 crore) is a regular in the Australian Twenty20 scheme of things. His ODI career, however, kicked off in January 2009 and his last match was in August the same year.Contrast this with Test batsmen Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. The current IPL season has seen Dravid pull his weight for Rajasthan Royals at the top of the order and Tendulkar, who once famously said T20 is for youngsters, crack a remarkable century for Mumbai Indians and be among the top run scorers in the competition.
“It has to do with basics,” says former national selector Kiran More. “Players raised on the three-day, four-day or five-day formats have strong basics and hence can adapt to any format of the game. Those brought up on T20 and 50-over games don’t have sound basics and so find it difficult to make the transition to the longer formats of the game as it requires more skills,” the former Indian stumper adds.
History is replete with instances of players branded as Test batsmen excelling equally in ODIs, although there are far fewer cases of ODI specialists making a mark in the purest form of the game. So how much can T20—and the IPL—really promote young talent and hone skills?
Test cricket gives bowlers and batsmen equal opportunity to showcase their skills. ODIs, despite the growing trend of flatbed pitches, allow a batsman to build an innings and a bowler enough opportunities to have a go at the batsman. In T20, the bowlers get just four overs each, the primary intention being to contain runs, not take wickets.
“There is great exposure for the younger lot to play on an international stage,” argues Chennai Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming. “For some of these players who get selected, this is the first time they have got such an opportunity. Since it’s an international stage, they get noticed,” the former New Zealand skipper adds.
“Our game against Kings XI Punjab was a perfect example, where the young lad got a hundred. It was a life-changing experience for him. That’s what the IPL is all about,” he says, referring to Valthaty.
Mumbai captain Wasim Jaffer, however, says Valthaty will need to show consistency to earn a Ranji Trophy call-up. “This performance (in the IPL) will help him,” former India opener Jaffer says. “He has made those runs against quality bowling and I’m sure the selectors will keep that in mind. However, you can’t judge someone for first-class cricket based on performance in Twenty20 games.
“It’s a different format. He has to do well in tournaments like the Times Shield (a local competition in Mumbai) and prove himself. He has always played the odd remarkable innings in the Times Shield, but then would have a lean run. He was inconsistent. However, with age people do mature, and he has become better.”
The “one-season wonder” syndrome seen in each of the previous three IPL seasons is a worrying aspect for players such as Valthaty.
Goa boy Swapnil Asnodkar was the toast of the first season with his attacking batting for Rajasthan Royals. Likewise, medium-pacer Manpreet Singh Gony forced his way into the Indian One Day team for two matches based on his strong performance in the 2008 IPL for Chennai Super Kings. Both were unable to sustain their form and fell off the radar.
At the other end of the spectrum, the IPL has also been a platform for experienced campaigners to display their adaptability. Subramaniam Badrinath, whose batting approach is generally assumed to be suited to four- and five-day cricket, has reinvented himself as a finisher for defending champions Chennai Super Kings (294 runs at an average of 98, strike rate 135).
Mumbai Indians’ Ambati Rayudu, spoken of highly since his junior cricket days, has shown that he is a player with the ability to adapt to fast-changing situations (349 runs at an average of 39, strike rate 119.5 in this IPL).
Ultimately, it is for the selectors to see beyond the slam-bang and identify talent that may endure across formats and seasons.

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