IPL has fast-tracked young Indian cricketers into international reckoning, where once the road was arduous, the process in stages, and usually requiring a sustained period of consistency in domestic cricket.

If IPL was born earlier these lesser-known Indian cricketers who would have rocked itBy warrenski (Flickr) via Wikimedia Commons
Voices Sports Thursday, April 27, 2017 - 14:50

Watching Manan Vohra slam 95 for Kings XI the other night, Sanju Samson notch up a century for Delhi Daredevils earlier, or, for that matter, unknown Basil Thampi make a name for himself with Gujarat Lions, one was reminded of the boon that the Indian Premier League is for domestic cricketers in helping establish their credentials or reviving their fortunes.

While being the multi-million-dollar module that turned global cricket on its head, the IPL, since its inception in 2008, has also fast-tracked young Indian cricketers into international reckoning where once the road was arduous, the process in stages, and usually requiring a sustained period of consistency in domestic cricket.

Vohra’s aggressive batting brought to mind J Arunkumar, the dynamic former Karnataka opener who was appointed batting coach of Kings XI this season. JAK, as he is known, was a wonderful striker of the ball and finished his domestic career with over 10,000 First-class and List-A runs including 27 hundreds and 55 fifties.

Now 42 years of age, JAK’s last First-class season as a player was in 2008 when he also played a handful of T20 matches, including a couple for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, but, looking back now, one is left wondering if the careers of JAK or other talented players of his generation, whose game appear suited to T20, would have got an international boost had IPL presented itself earlier.

J Arunkumar. Image: Deccan Chronicle

Tamil Nadu all-rounders Divakar Vasu and Sadagoppan Mahesh, wicketkeeper-batsman Reuben Paul, Kerala all-rounders Sreekumar Nair and Sunil Oasis are some of the cricketers from the South who come readily to mind from the mid-90s onwards who would have greatly benefitted from the IPL in their pursuit to don national colours.

In fact, Vasu, currently Director at the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association Academy, and Paul, who subsequently migrated to Australia, were briefly in the reckoning for an ODI call-up.

“IPL has clearly changed the dynamics in player ability recognition,” former India stumper Bharath Reddy, a highly-regarded talent scout in Chennai’s competitive cricket structure, said.

“The IPL has the entire cricket world taking notice, and so possesses a lot of recall value. Live TV coverage, media write-ups and the national selectors watching every match… Ranji (Trophy), Duleep (Trophy), Deodhar (Trophy), premier national tournaments that they are, never got this sort of attention,” added Reddy.

It helps that the IPL rules mandate that no side can have more than four overseas players in the playing eleven, for that means that the focus is clearly on Indians. Talent scouts of the franchises are also not influenced by regional or parochial bias, it being a professional, paid job: and so the interesting picks like Kerala pacer Thampi, Tamil Nadu left-arm seamer Thangarasu Natarajan or his 17-year-old state-mate, all-rounder Washington Sundar who was roped in by Rising Pune Supergiant as replacement for injured Ravichandran Ashwin.

Back in his day, Vasu was among the leading all-rounders in South Zone. A nippy left-arm pacer who later turned into an accurate spinner, he was a dependable batsman who was equally adept at using the long handle. His fielding skills bore testimony that he was a natural athlete.  He finished with 3,001 runs (@ 35.72) and 240 wickets (25.11) in a First-class career spanning 76 matches.

Divakar Vasu. Image: The Hindu

Mahesh was another player who could have lit up the IPL stage. A lively pace bowler with a natural outswinger, a hard-hitting batsman who could change the course of a game if in the mood and a safe fielder for a big-built bloke.

Elder brother of Test cricketer Ramesh, Mahesh finished his 51-match First-class career with 1530 runs (@32.55) and 132 wickets (@30.16), marking him out as a full-fledged all-rounder. “Big time cricket is meant for a few chosen people. I was not in the wanted list,” Mahesh had said philosophically many years ago.

Sadagoppan Mahesh and Reuben Paul. Image: ESPN, The Hindu

Paul was a high-impact wicketkeeper-batsman whose record of 1,798 runs and 118 dismissals in 49 First-class matches and 604 runs and 59 dismissals in 40 List A games only tell a part of the story. Reubie, as he was known, was capable of tearing into an attack and in this age of T20 would have been a big hit.

On his Ranji Trophy debut against Goa at the Guru Nanak College ground in Chennai in 1995-96, Paul was batting on 40-odd when word was sent across to him about the impending declaration. Reubie raced to his hundred, his second fifty coming in just 14 deliveries including five consecutive sixes in one over.

There were others too from that period, like the late N Gautam and DJ Gokulakrishnan (TN), aggressive Karnataka opener Mithun Beerala and Hyderabad opening batsman and pacer Daniel Manohar.

The list can go longer but the above, though, is my pick.

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