There are six India U-19 players in the IPL this edition. Barring Sarfaraz Khan and Ishan Kishan, who has played one match, the rest are yet to be tried out by their teams.
In a competition as demanding as the IPL, a quality player might often sit out due to constraints of the combination the captain wants or the limit on foreigners a team can field. The reason behind not playing a U-19 player therefore is well established --- inexperience at this level. With the right amount of tutelage, they can be converted into match-winners.
Only Sarfaraz has an edge over his teammates because of the stint with Royal Challengers Bangalore. Last year, he featured in 13 of RCB’s 16 matches. This edition, he has played in every match, starting with a 10-ball 35 that knocked the wind out of Sunrisers Hyderabad’s sails.
His advantage is the aggression he brings to the field, something that fast-tracked him to the India U-19 team before RCB picked him for his bold batting. A fearless player of short deliveries, his temperament is perfect for T20 cricket. He also made use of the opportunities that came his way. By hitting a 21-ball 45 against Rajasthan Royals last year, Sarfaraz sealed his place.
His case is an aberration. Sarfaraz’s talented Mumbai teammate Armaan Jaffer, former India opener Wasim Jaffer’s nephew, is yet to get a game for Kings XI Punjab under the wait-and-watch policy adopted by the teams.
“Six years ago, I didn’t play a game for the first season. But I had the likes of Adam Gilchrist, David Hussey, Jason Gillespie as coach and Michael Bevan,” said Punjab captain David Miller.
“I think for him (Armaan) it’s just to try and learn as much as he can, watch certain batters or fielders, mingle with the guys and see how the professionals are off the field and what makes them tick. It’s about making relationships and getting better as a player. I have seen him play in the warm-up game against South Africa (in WT20). He batted well. He has got a lot to look forward to and who knows he may get a game later on in the tournament, but we will see how it goes,” said Miller. Interestingly, three U-19 players have been bought by Delhi Daredevils where India U-19 coach Rahul Dravid is mentor. A top official in the junior India circuit told HT that by buying these three players, Daredevils have allowed the bond between the U-19 coach and his former wards grow. “Rishabh Pant is an explosive batsman, Mahipal Lomror can be a very good all-rounder while Khaleel Ahmed can surprise you with his pace. Dravid knows them inside out so he knows best when to field any of them. At the same time, they have got an extended opportunity to work out their problems with Dravid. They may or may not play but this experience would hold in good stead,” said the official.
In any case, the IPL has more or less replaced the Ranji Trophy as the scouting place for future match-winners. Veteran coach Debu Mitra, who has honed players like Ravindra Jadeja and Cheteshwar Pujara, has no doubt the IPL stint will mature these U-19 players regardless of the match time they get. “This is the right age to groom a player for the national team. Let them stay with the IPL teams for a year or so. They will know what to do watching the seniors in the team,” he said.
Mitra rubbished the fear that this format is not the best for a budding player. “It’s all about technique. Virat Kohli will rarely play a loose shot. You have a role model there who is equally good in T20s as well as Tests just because of his technique.”