IPL dream adds buzz to India’s domestic white-ball tournaments

  • Scouts from the franchises at the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and Vijay Hazare Trophy matches ahead of the IPL mega auction is an added incentive for players.
IPL Trophy(IPL / Twitter) PREMIUM
IPL Trophy(IPL / Twitter)
Published on Dec 21, 2021 03:36 AM IST
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By, Mumbai

“Finding 10 extra foreigners is not that difficult, but finding 20 good Indian kids is the challenge for the Indian Premier League sides,” a former IPL team functionary said during the T20 World Cup. While overseas players used the World Cup to impress the franchises, IPL rules restrict foreign players to four in the playing XI. That means the teams’ main recruitment is India players.

It has resulted in IPL sides having a strong network of scouts to monitor local tournaments. While their job includes looking for talent everywhere, the best place to spot it is BCCI’s domestic white-ball competitions. The T20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the one-day Vijay Hazare Trophy national tournaments see a large number of talented players in action. The state T20 leagues are also followed closely, but talent there comprises only of local players.

“IPL sides actually will be tracking Mushtaq Ali Trophy far more than they will be tracking the T20 World Cup,” the IPL official said, referring to the T20 tournament that was overlapping with the T20 World Cup in the UAE.

The mega IPL auction this season is eagerly awaited by cricketers in India. The addition of two new teams has also raised the hopes of many more players.

A good contract can be life-changing, which means there is a career now beyond international cricket.

This time, there will be a 20% increase in demand for players because the number of teams has gone up from eight. It means 20 more Indian players will be picked.

After attending the T20 tournament, the IPL scouts—they are all former players—are also present at the Vijay Hazare Trophy games being played now. During the games in Mumbai, one could spot officials from Delhi Capitals, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Mumbai Indians, Punjab Kings’ and Kolkata Knight Riders, all keenly following the games and dividing their time between three venues, Cricket Club of India, MCA-Sharad Pawar Cricket Academy ground and Dadoji Konddev Stadium, Thane.

Starting with the success of Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya after they were first spotted at these tournaments, the IPL dream has given a new life to the domestic white-ball competitions. Good performances here are noticed, analysed and players then called for trials by multiple IPL teams. Days of wallowing in the anonymity of domestic games are truly over, especially in white-ball cricket.

This season, the interest is higher because of more opportunities. Except for the retained players, all the teams have to buy players in the auction and impressing the franchises is the route to be in the market.

Former BCCI chairman of selectors, Kiran More, was happy with the intensity on display at the domestic championships. He listed various reasons. Besides the draw of the IPL auction, the lack of cricket due to pandemic also made cricketers hungry for action, says the former India stumper.

“With the pandemic, the boys are very keen to play matches. Definitely the intensity has increased and everybody is trying to perform better. There are a lot of opportunities. It is not only IPL, it is India A and Challenger Trophy; most India selectors are watching the games. That makes a lot of difference,” says More.

“If I’m playing, I want to do well, showcase what I have. Every player was very keen, every team was very keen; most of the teams are managed by professional coaches, who are former players,” says More, who has a senior role with MI.

While Mumbai Indians are known to have the biggest network with scouts on their permanent rolls, some others hire on tournament basis, paying a handsome daily allowance. The scouts have become as important as the national and state selectors. During the matches, one can see the support staff members waving to those they know, asking them to watch out for a particular player when he comes on to bowl or bat.

For players, the auction is a big incentive to give their best even if their team is struggling to match stronger opponents.

Former Mumbai coach Vinayak Samant, a constant presence at the Hazare matches in his role for Punjab Kings, sees this as the best opportunity for uncapped players.

The two tournaments were used by the players in different ways—the younger lot tried to catch the eye of the scouts while the seasoned campaigners wanted to prove that they have the skill-set to be seen as finished products. IPL regulars with a question mark on their quality pushed to be at their best to clear the doubts in the minds of the franchises and persuade them to put big money on them again.

“IPL has infused life into these tournaments because scouts are present in every game. The capped or uncapped players’ pool has increased. Even if you consider that every team’s core group is settled, each team will still have 15 uncapped players, old and new mixed. So, it is a very good platform for those who are performing well and are fit. The careers of around 50 to 60 new players are going to be made,” says Samant.

Former Mumbai opener Vinayak Mane, who is helping out Punjab Kings and coaches the Parsee Gymkhana cricket team that has Mumbai players like Suryakumar Yadav, Aditya Tare, Tushar Deshpande and Shams Mulani—he captained Mumbai in Vijay Hazare—says: “Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare are both premium tournaments now in the players’ view. State associations also take a keen interest because they want to promote their players. In our times, Ranji Trophy was the premier tournament. It still has its importance, but in today’s cricket, white-ball performances are very well followed.”

“The players are more excited and ready to put in the extra yard to succeed in these two. They rate red-ball cricket high as well, but it is also scheduled later in the season… They are very keen to return after the off-season to prepare and do well (in limited-overs). Then they try and take that form into red-ball cricket.”

It is not that players focus only on their performances to the detriment of the team goal. Being part of the winning side is important for performances to be noticed. “Eventually winning the game for the state is very important, so nobody tries to show off; if your team is playing good cricket and you are a player who is winning matches for your team, then only will you get a chance to play in IPL,” says Samant.

The Vijay Hazare Trophy is in its final stages with the knock-outs being played in Jaipur. The performances in the quarter-finals, semifinals and final will get more attention from IPL teams, and it will bring the best out of the players.

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