Yashasvi Jaiswal's patchy IPL form keeps Rohit Sharma, Ajit Agarkar on the edge before T20 World Cup | Crickit

Yashasvi Jaiswal's patchy IPL form keeps Rohit Sharma, Ajit Agarkar on the edge before T20 World Cup

Apr 11, 2024 05:01 PM IST

There is no reason to believe, yet, that Jaiswal’s place is under any immediate threat, but Rohit, Dravid, Agarkar will be keeping a keen eye on proceedings.

Such is the positioning of the Indian Premier League in the calendar that almost invariably, it immediately precedes the T20 World Cup. There are exceptions, such as the 2022 edition in Australia, staged in October-November. Otherwise, the IPL becomes a dress rehearsal for players from most nations, who use the ultra-competitive, high-stakes franchise faceoff to reacquaint themselves with T20 skills ahead of the country vs country showdowns for the ultimate prize in the 20-over format.

Rajasthan Royals' Yashasvi Jaiswal(AFP)
Rajasthan Royals' Yashasvi Jaiswal(AFP)

Consequently, the IPL can either haul someone out of relative anonymity and pitchfork him into international reckoning -- case in point, tearaway paceman Mayank Yadav -- or test the character and fortitude of a proven performer in the middle of an early-season rut. Such as Yashasvi Jaiswal.

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The unassuming opener began 2024 as if on a mission, a blazing cameo (23 off 28) during a tricky run-chase of 79 on a diabolical Cape Town strip merely a precursor. Warming up with a 34-ball 68 in mid-January in a T20I against Afghanistan, the 22-year-old reserved his best for the five-Test series against England. A magnificent 80 in a losing cause in Hyderabad was backed up by successive double-tons in Visakhapatnam and Rajkot – a feat previously accomplished among Indians by only Vinod Kambli and Virat Kohli – as he finished the series with 712 runs, second in the all-time Indian list behind Sunil Gavaskar (774 on debut in 1971).

Life couldn’t have been going more swimmingly for the left-hander when he linked up with Rajasthan Royals ahead of IPL 2024. He was returning to familiar territory, to a team that had catapulted him to the big league. The previous year, Jaiswal had smashed a 13-ball half-century for Rajasthan, the fastest in IPL history; at 21 years and 123 days, he also became the franchise’s youngest centurion, against Mumbai Indians. His rich vein of current form and reunion with the men who had overseen his dramatic emergence from the shadows suggested a win-win for all.

Cricket in general, and T20 cricket specifically, generally bites you where it hurts the most when least expected. Jaiswal’s electric high is now a thing of the past. Five matches into a campaign that has started brilliantly for the 2008 champions – Wednesday’s last-ball loss to Gujarat Titans notwithstanding – Jaiswal is going through the wars, with just 63 runs and a highest of 24. Three weeks back, it was almost set in stone that skipper Rohit Sharma and Jaiswal would be the preferred opening combine at the World Cup in June. It might not be as cut and dried now, perhaps, though Jaiswal has enough time, and plenty of class, to turn things around before the 15-member squad is announced in three weeks’ time.

Rajasthan are unlikely to bench him in a hurry – class will out, they’ll remind you, and especially when they are embarking on a winning run, teams aren’t unwilling to carry a proven performer struggling a little for form – which will afford Jaiswal the best chance to beat back any potential opposition and rediscover his mojo, as much for his franchise’s sake as for his country’s. Success in the top order of Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Abhishek Sharma means Jaiswal’s left-handedness has a potential rival. Virat Kohli has done his case no harm with firm possession of the Orange Cap while Jaiswal’s captain Sanju Samson and Shubman Gill, the Gujarat Titans helmsman, both have scored pleasing, impactful, influential runs.

There is no reason to believe, yet, that Jaiswal’s place in the Indian set-up is under any immediate or serious threat, but Rohit, head coach Rahul Dravid (enjoying a rare break from the game) and Ajit Agarkar’s selection panel will be keeping a keen eye on proceedings. While pedigree is essential, indeed imperative, heading into a tournament as visible as a World Cup, form can’t be overlooked either. India haven’t always got the balance between reputation and current form right, which explains why one has to go all the way back to 2007 – when the IPL was yet to come into existence -- for their only T20 World Cup triumph.

Jaiswal hasn’t been scratchy at the IPL. Even on Wednesday against Gujarat when he made 24, long spells of dot-ball frustration were interspersed with five glorious boundaries through the off-side. More than lack of fluency, Jaiswal’s anaemic returns perhaps stem from anxiety and his own pressure of expectations, because one can’t swiftly regress from being a world-class player. It’s up to the wise heads at Rajasthan, not least head coach Kumar Sangakkara and senior pro R Ashwin, to aid Jaiswal in the journey for calmness and assurance and the bid to explode self-doubts, if any.

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