With IPL auction and new teams, Mushtaq Ali meet assumes greater significance

From 56 in the playing XI, it will be 70 next season so franchises will monitor the domestic T20 meet even more closely
File Photo Nitish Rana batting in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy(BCCI/Twitter) PREMIUM
File Photo Nitish Rana batting in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy(BCCI/Twitter)
Published on Oct 29, 2021 08:23 PM IST
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ByVivek Krishnan

Across six cities now — Lucknow, Guwahati, Baroda, Delhi, Haryana and Vijayawada — India’s domestic cricketers are cooped up in hotel rooms with provision given for only training sessions during their quarantine. Most of them haven’t had much of a turnaround time since the IPL ended on October 15, but it is a minor inconvenience given what’s coming up. They are waiting keenly for the start of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy — the domestic T20 competition — from November 4.

The start of a fresh domestic season has its own lure for the large crew of players who take part each year, but the Mushtaq Ali meet arguably occupies greater relevance this term. With two new IPL teams now in place and a fresh players’ auction around the corner, there are plenty of spots up for grabs across the 10 teams. Eight IPL teams meant that there needed to be a minimum of 56 Indian players in the starting XIs. The requirement now is 70 and each team’s reserve options also need to be good enough to step in when needed.

While the big international stars add a dose of glitz and glamour to the IPL, it is the Indian players who are the league’s heartbeat. The latest edition proved so. Ruturaj Gaikwad and Harshal Patel finished on top of the run-scoring and wicket-taking charts respectively, only the third time in 14 seasons that two Indians have bested these lists. Venkatesh Iyer, Avesh Khan, Arshdeep Singh and Umran Malik also had their moments in an IPL season divided into two halves.

With a few notable exceptions, the overseas players did not quite set the stage alight. The fact that many of the marquee names were not available for the entirety of the season may have been a factor, but it doesn’t take anything away from the lesser-known domestic names who did step up.

Franchises will now closely track these names to ascertain whether some of them can sustain their efforts. More importantly, these franchises, which have extensive scouting networks, will hope to witness the unearthing of new stars at the domestic meet.

Current Goa coach KP Bhaskar, a domestic stalwart who has coached a number of teams including Delhi, sees plenty of hidden potential waiting to be discovered.

“There are a lot of youngsters coming up who can fit into the two new franchises. Two years ago, not many would have known about Gaikwad or Iyer. There will be others like that who can do well,” said Bhaskar.

While there is an enduring charm to watching a hitherto unknown name gain prominence, Bhaskar also pointed out the presence of a sizeable number of players who are benched for large parts of the IPL. They will now get their chance to play more prominent roles.

“Many Indian cricketers sit on the bench during the IPL. We have a player called Suyash Prabhudessai who was with RCB but did not get a chance. The entry of two new teams will be an opportunity for some of the benched players,” said Bhaskar, 58.

Tamil Nadu’s M Shahrukh Khan, for example, did not get the run of games he would have been hoping for. Punjab Kings had shelled out 5.25 crore for his services, but his game-time was limited to 11 appearances. It was hard to fathom why considering he had been one of the stars of his state team’s charge to the Mushtaq Ali title last season. Even in those 11 games, he provided glimpses of his potential. After being dropped for the first three games of the UAE leg, he returned for an outing against KKR and hit a 9-ball 22* to take his team across the line.

“In the limited opportunities that I got, I stood up for the team and chipped in with runs at the end of an innings. It is exciting for everybody that two new teams are coming. A lot of domestic players will be under the spotlight and will benefit from good performances,” said Khan, 26, after his first IPL season.

While the TN batter is still finding his way, there are also those like K Gowtham who are at the other end of the spectrum. He has been in the IPL ecosystem for a few years with different franchises but couldn’t get a game for CSK this time due to a certain team combination favoured by the men in yellow. Gowtham, too, is rejuvenated by the expansion of the IPL.

“It is an opportunity for every one of us. It will help us to do what we need to do during the Mushtaq Ali tournament. If you look at (Harshal) Patel, he has been in the domestic system for a while. This year, he got a consistent opportunity and became the highest wicket-taker,” said Gowtham.

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    Vivek Krishnan is a sports journalist who enjoys covering cricket and football among other disciplines. He wanted to be a cricketer himself but has gladly settled for watching and writing on different sports.

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