With T20 World Cup in sight, India's unstoppable wealth of talent shines in its full glory
Under Suryakumar Yadav, India, despite missing World Cup heroes, stood strong against Australia, displaying characteristic formidability and resilience.
Tuesday night’s Glenn Maxwell-inspired last-ball heist in Guwahati notwithstanding, this has already been a T20I series to cherish for Indian cricket. Never before in the nation’s history has 200 been scaled thrice in a row in the 20-over format; Ruturaj Gaikwad’s unbeaten 123 is the second highest individual score by an Indian.
That India are sitting on a 2-1 lead against Australia with two matches to play is commendable by itself. Given that two-thirds of the team that lost in the final of the World Cup just over a week back is MIA magnifies that accomplishment even more. It testifies to the strength and depth of the sport in the country, it speaks to the systems in place that identify, encourage and nurture new talent, which is imperative to avoid stagnation and build for the future.
The inter-state 50-over tournament for the Vijay Hazare Trophy is on in full swing. So is the Under-19 Cooch Behar Trophy; the Under-23 one-day tournament ended a few days back. And, as mentioned before, at least 10 of India’s World Cup 15 are resting and recuperating, many of them readying for a full tour of South Africa beginning on December 10 with the first of three T20Is.
Still, new skipper Suryakumar Yadav’s India have more than held their own against Australia, also missing many of their World Cup heroes but typically, characteristically formidable and unyielding. On the strength of their muscular batting, India have ridden the crest of a wave, extending the trend of exhilarating cricket espoused and exhibited by Rohit Sharma’s bunch at the World Cup. Suryakumar, among the premier T20 batters in the world, has been in the forefront, but he hasn’t waged a solitary battle.
Gaikwad has been but one cog in an electric Indian batting wheel also populated and powered by Yashasvi Jaiswal, Ishan Kishan, Tilak Verma and the irrepressible Rinku Singh, fast emerging as a cult hero with his ice-cold finishing skills and a humble, grounded, down-to-earth attitude that’s bound to appeal to the vast majority. All these young men have been fearless and unshackled by the fear of failure; given the freedom to express themselves, they have done so with panache, fusing subcontinental wristwork with power-hitting that is non-negotiable in this day and age where bowlers are treated with absolute disdain and lengths of boundaries mocked repeatedly.
Without belabouring the point, the role of the Indian Premier League can’t be exaggerated. Beyond the obvious benefits – sharing a dressing room with legends from across the globe, playing in front of big crowds, experiencing immense pressure night after night for two months – the IPL helps bridge the huge gap between domestic and international cricket. The absence of stage-fright is one of the more noticeable traits; the young men coming through to the highest level aren’t finished products but even before their international debut, they are seasoned and well prepared for the country vs country challenge because they have been there and done that for their franchise.
No one exemplifies that better than Rinku. The 26-year-old left-hander from Aligarh was anonymous until a few months back but stormed into the cricketing consciousness with five sixes in a row in the last over from Yash Dayal to pull off an improbable win for Kolkata Knight Riders against Gujarat Titans this April. By then, he had played senior representative cricket for Uttar Pradesh for six and a half years, averaging 50-plus in both the first-class and List A (domestic 50-over) formats. Like R Ashwin more than a decade previously, it was his IPL exploits that thrust him into the limelight, but Rinku had already had a strong grounding in the sport, thanks to the time spent in domestic cricket, honing his craft and working on his mind away from the public glare.
There is much to commend about India’s airtight structure that ensures promising talent doesn’t slip through the cracks. The much maligned and hugely underappreciated National Cricket Academy has played a significant role in that process, which has also translated into numerous World Cup triumphs at the Under-19 level.
India’s batting successes in the last three games have somewhat papered over the cracks on the bowling front. True, T20 is unforgiving when it comes to the bowlers, but India’s reserve pacemen specifically have been fairly ordinary when it has to come to execution. For now, the pace stocks are reasonably brimful but if the future is to remain as fruitful, that’s an area that will require minute and serious attention. As for the batting, let’s just sit back and enjoy the fun.
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