First One Day International - India v England - Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Pune, India - March 23, 2021 India's Krunal Pandya(REUTERS)
First One Day International - India v England - Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Pune, India - March 23, 2021 India's Krunal Pandya(REUTERS)

There will be new blood: India’s fiery debutants

  • Shubman Gill, Axar Patel, Suryakumar Yadav, Krunal Pandya, Ishan Kishan, Washington Sundar, Navdeep Saini, Prasidh Krishna, T Natarajan have provided such dazzling entertainment in their first matches/series that one could, form a playing XI for each format composed entirely of debutants.
PUBLISHED ON MAR 25, 2021 07:33 AM IST

Want to break a crucial stand to save a match? Bring on a debutant. Win a match that no one thinks you will win against a team at their most impregnable fortress? Bring on the debutants. Put on a record lower-order partnership? Debutants. Grind a vaunted batting line-up down to dust with arm balls? A debutant.

Over the last four months or so, Indian cricketers have provided such dazzling entertainment in their first matches/series that one could, without stretching the imagination too much, form a playing XI for each format composed entirely of debutants.

In that time, India’s debutants have also taken four five-fors at astonishing averages, hit a fastest fifty on ODI debut by any player, and returned the best bowling figures for an Indian on ODI debut.

Though the likes of Shubman Gill, Axar Patel, Suryakumar Yadav and Krunal Pandya have patiently waited in the wings for some time now, more fascinating are the stories of the accidental stars — the net bowlers who weren’t even supposed to be in the park, the third-choice players who otherwise carry water to the ground. Think Shardul Thakur, technically not a debutant, but since he had lasted all of 10 balls on his debut in 2018 before an injury laid him low, he was, for all practical purposes, playing his first Test in Australia in December, and batting to save it with Washington Sundar.

Also Read | India vs Australia: The debutants' report card

Think Mohammed Siraj, who mourned his father from a lonely hotel room in a bio-bubble before cranking up the pace. Here’s a look back at India’s brave new faces and their exploits.

Thangarasu Natarajan

Age 29, Born: Salem, Tamil Nadu

ODI debut: Dec 2, 2020 vs Australia in Canberra

T20 debut: Dec 4, 2020 vs Australia in Canberra

Test debut: Jan 15, 2021 vs Australia in Brisbane

1 ODI, 2 wkts, Best in an innings: 2/70, Econ: 7.00

4 T20s, 7wkts, Best in an innings 3/30, Econ: 7.62

1 Tests, 3 wkts, Best in an innings: 3/78, Avg 39.66

A humble man with a stinging yorker and deceptive cutters, that’s “Nathu” for you. Good IPL outings meant the left-arm medium-pacer was picked as a net bowler for the tour of Australia. From then on, it was story to match a Bollywood fantasy—as more and more players were ruled out injured during the series, Natarajan found himself making his ODI, T20I and Test debut. At the Brisbane Test, he stood up to be counted after the entire first-line of Sharma, Bumrah, Shami and Umesh Yadav were unavailable. Natarajan took the wickets of Labuschagne and Matthew Wade in what was to be one of India’s most memorable Test wins.

Also Read | 'Our father passed away at 4 am, Krunal's been carrying his stuff since': Hardik

Shubman Gill

21, Born: Fazilka, Punjab

Test debut: Dec 26, 2020 vs Australia in Melbourne

7 Tests, 378 runs, Highest: 91, Avg 34.36

After a patchy start to his ODI career (9 and 7) in New Zealand (2019) Gill’s Test debut was a trial by fire. Down 0-1 after being shot out for 36 in Adelaide, India’s hopes of equaling the series in Australia pinned on a good opening partnership. Replacing Prithvi Shaw, Gill delivered exactly that, scoring 45 and 35* in an eight-wicket victory in the 2020 Boxing Day Test at the MCG. Head still, good-hand-eye connection and a dazzling array of drives, Gill ticked all the boxes needed to succeed at the top level. Then came Gill’s defining knock—a belligerent 91 that set up India’s match and series-winning chase of 328 at the Gabba, Australia’s first defeat at the venue since 1988.

Mohammed Siraj

27, Born: Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

Test debut: Dec 26, 2020 vs Australia in Melbourne

5 Tests, 16 wkts, Best in an innings: 5/73, Avg 28.25

This is the story of another scrappy ODI debut (0/76 against Australia in 2019) and three unremarkable T20Is (2017-18) wiped clean by a stellar Test performance. Choosing to stay back in Australia as a net bowler despite his father’s death in December, Siraj found himself making an unexpected debut in Melbourne after Mohammad Shami was ruled out of the series due to injury. He impressed by setting up Marnus Labuschagne—Australia’s most prolific batsman in the last two years—with a leg-side trap before pinning Cameron Greene leg-before.

In the very next Test, he was India’s pace spearhead and he rose to the responsibility with his maiden five-for.

With a slippery action and clever changes of length, he is the perfect back up to the first choice Test trio of Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Shami.

Also Read | Axar Patel: The perfect replacement

Ask Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, who were removed by Siraj’s inswingers in the first innings of the fourth Test in Ahmedabad, paving the way for an innings victory.

Navdeep Saini

28, Born: Karnal, Haryana

Test debut: Jan 7, 2021 vs Australia in Sydney

2 Tests, 4 wkts, Best in an innings: 2/54, Avg 43.00

Saini has had a fairly long wait on the bench, playing the odd ODI and T20I till opportunity knocked on the door in the form of a Test debut in Sydney earlier this year. Third pacer after Bumrah and Siraj in that Test, Saini brilliantly trapped Australia opener Will Pucovski leg-before with a quick and full delivery. A more telling blow came in the second innings, when Saini induced an edge down the leg from Labuschagne. That burst and a decent spell in the first innings of the next Test in Brisbane concludes Saini’s Test career so far but you never know when one of India’s fastest bowlers could be called upon next.

Washington Sundar

21, Born: Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Test debut: Jan 15, 2021 vs Australia in Brisbane

4 Tests,

265 runs, Highest: 96*, Avg 66.25

6 wkts, Best in an innings: 3/89, Avg 49.83

Integral to India’s T20I plans, Sundar was praised for his ability to bowl flat, tight lines and his reassuring batting ever since he started playing for the U-19 team. But the real test of character came in Australia when India preferred Sundar—originally picked as a net bowler—over Kuldeep Yadav in the Brisbane Test after R Ashwin was ruled out with an injury. After dismissing Steven Smith and Cameron Greene, Sundar went on to score a series-defining knock of 62 on debut, adding 123 runs for the seventh wicket with Shardul Thakur and propelling India to 336 in reply to Australia’s 369. That broke Australia’s resistance. Sundar has scored two fifties since then, including a 96 in the fourth Test in Ahmedabad where he tragically ran out of partners. He continues to evolve with the ball as well, making him one of the best all-rounders in the making.

India's debutants
India's debutants

Axar Patel

Age 27, Born: Anand, Gujarat

Test debut: Feb 13, 2021 vs England in Chennai

3 Tests, 27 wkts, Best in an innings: 6/38, Avg 10.59

The only reason Patel made his Test debut in February was because India were looking for a like-for-like replacement for the injured Ravindra Jadeja.

He proved to be England’s destroyer-in-chief. Making his debut in the second Test, Patel went on to bag 27 wickets in three games at an outstanding average of 10.59, taking four five-wicket hauls in the process. With a high-arm release, Patel was stifling with his accuracy and flat lines, denying England any space to work the ball. And then there was that deceptive arm ball that made the England’s superb Test line-up look like rank amateurs with the bat.

Patel then pitched in with 43 in the 106-run partnership for the eight wicket with Washington Sundar in the last Test.

Ishan Kishan

22, Born: Patna, Bihar

T20 debut: Mar 14, 2021 vs England in Ahmedabad

2 T20s, 60 runs, Best in an innings: 56, S/R 146.34

Jharkhand’s tradition of providing wicketkeepers capable of high-octane batting lives through Kishan (who plays his domestic cricket for the state). A star member of India’s under-19 class of 2016, Kishan’s career was a roller-coaster at the start before he began to find his feet playing for Mumbai Indians. After winning the 2020 IPL with MI, on India debut, chasing England’s 164 in the second T20I, Kishan hit the ground running by flicking Jofra Archer off his legs for a boundary. He reached fifty in 28 balls, struck four sixes and almost numbed England into submission with a stunning display of strokes that guided India to a handsome win with 13 balls to spare.

Suryakumar Yadav

Age 30, Born: Mumbai, Maharashtra

T20 debut: Mar 14, 2021 vs England in Ahmedabad

3 T20s, 89 runs, Best in an innings: 57, S/R 185.41

A long-awaited debut came at the age of 30 when Yadav had almost given up hope. An aggressive batsman on the leg side, especially when it came to pulling off audacious shots in T20, Yadav toiled to make himself good all around the wicket. That finally paid off. He didn’t get a chance to bat on debut, but the next match—the fourth T20I against England—Yadav launched his international career with a six over deep fine-leg. And when he punched Mark Wood for a boundary through covers the next over, India realised they had waited too long for him. With three sixes and six boundaries—most by any batsman on either side that day—Yadav scored 57 and owned the No 3 position almost instantly. He followed that up with a blazing 32 off 17, in the deciding T20I against England.

Also Read | Ishan Kishan joins India’s list of fiery debutants

Krunal Pandya

Age 30, Born: Ahmedabad, Gujarat

ODI debut: Mar 23, 2021 vs England in Pune

1 ODI, 58 runs, Best in an innings: 58*, S/R 187.09

Krunal’s ODI debut came in emotional circumstances, barely two months into losing his father, the man who introduced him and his brother Hardik to the game. A MI regular, Krunal offers a rare balance of aggression and control, cleverly using the angles while bowling left-arm spin and taking apart bowling attacks with his batting. When he came into bat, India were in a spot of bother with half their side dismissed and more than nine overs remaining. Krunal waited three balls before whipping Tom Curran for three boundaries in the next four balls. He reached his maiden fifty in 26 balls, the fastest by an ODI debutant.

Prasidh Krishna

25, Born: Bangalore, Karnataka

ODI debut: Mar 23, 2021 vs England in Pune

1 ODI, 4 wkts, Best in an innings: 4/54, Econ: 6.61

On Tuesday, Krishna’s international career could have been over in 18 balls. One of the best white-ball operators in domestic cricket, Krishna was taken to the cleaners by Jonny Bairstow in his first spell on ODI debut but the Karnataka pacer came back stronger, bowled an outgoing back of the length ball before hoodwinking Jason Roy with an incoming delivery from the same length. Krishna seized that momentum, bowled a wicket maiden, going on to dismiss Ben Stokes, Sam Billings and Tom Curran to finish with 8.1-1-54-4, the best figures by an India bowler on ODI debut.

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