April 1, 2022: The Indian Premier league (IPL) got off to a rousing start. The tournament brings to life a cricket entertainment that has become an annual feature to relish and enjoy. It draws people from all walks of life and covers both the young and the old.
The interesting aspect of it all is that viewers see the IPL matches in very many ways. The youngsters see it as one that is fast and exciting with plenty of boundaries and big hits, while the elderly look for classic shots and subtle placements.
The cricketers in the IPL have become showmen, with many of them showing off their own individual creative way to celebrate when they take a wicket, catch or make a successful hit to the fence. The very traits that earlier cricketers considered as boastful and crude behaviour, have now become acceptable and enjoyable for all.
Cricketers are being propelled into celebrating a feat and making it into a spectacle, especially in the T20 limited-overs version. Gentlemanly cricket has given way to brash and garish behaviour from both the spectators as well as the cricketers. The victor is looked upon as a star, whereas, the loser is seen as an under-performing failure.
The worry about the IPL is that it is gradually losing its sheen as regards the participation of many of the top international players. One hopes that the quality of the tournament is not diffused over time on account of it.
The initial matches have had several foreign stars missing for various reasons, which may not have made a major impact at this stage but ignoring it could be a folly in the long term.
The most wonderful outcome that has emerged from the recent initial IPL matches is the confidence, assurance and capabilities displayed by some known and unknown Indian domestic players. The IPL has given them a platform and an opportunity to make their presence felt and several have already made their mark.
One should not get fooled that the coaches of these IPL franchise sides have converted these Indian players into successful performers. The Indian coaches in every corner of the country are gradually mastering the art of making young Indian cricketers into specialised T20 players.
The domestic players wanting to get recognised go through quite a strenuous process to get a seat in many of the franchise squads. Unlike the corporate world, they may not go through an interview process. However, they do go through several trials before being recognised or considered for the auction.
These cricketers are the rough diamonds waiting to be found by talent spotters who are hired by the franchise owners. The IPL 2022 has already brought out the likes of Lalit Yadav, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Shahrukh Khan, Ayush Badoni, Rahul Tewatia and Shahbaz Ahmed. Each one of them has developed a good understanding of their skills and capabilities and they have displayed it quite creditably in crucial situations.
It is now quite evident that the quality and capability of the domestic cricketers have narrowed the gap drastically in being compared to the international recruits. The Indians seem more comfortable in the playing conditions than the foreign players, who seem to be still finding their feet in Indian conditions.
This is a pleasing development to watch, especially on the advancement made by the Indian players in the shorter format of the game.
Rishabh Pant has brought a unique touch to international cricket. The flamboyant stroke-maker has made power-hitting cricket the mode of the future. He plays Test cricket in the same way that he plays limited overs and his aggressive approach has been very successful. This is going to change the future of Indian cricket.
Pant has now become an icon whom every young cricketer will follow. The earlier days had Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, Sunil Gavaskar and many such cricketers who were all perfectly and technically correct players. They would grind their opponents into dust with their correctness and patience.
Then arrived Sachin Tendulkar, who put in an additional bit by taking a higher percentage of risks by playing shots far more than the earlier generation. He displayed a happy mix of solid technical defence along with shots on the offense. This became the popular approach of a batter. Virender Sehwag was an exception and somehow his approach got ranked as one who was brave but foolhardy.
Rishabh Pant has a similar flair to that of Sehwag but he has furthered his skills by playing some out-of-the-box innovative strokes to improve upon it. Pant has made bowlers, even in the Test arena, quiver and quake with his bold approach to batting.
This has now made Pant the centre figure of modern batsmanship. Cricket batters at the international level in recent times were worried about getting branded as Test-match players. Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and even Steve Smith became victims to this. So did Kane Williamson and Joe Root. For these super batters, removing the perception of being seen as plodders has been very difficult.
The young batters of today may respect them but to ape them would be doomsday for their careers. The big bucks are in the T20 format and playing shots to suit that approach would not only make them into valuable assets but they could also, like Pant, scale the wall of the Test-playing world.
Batting in the similar mode of brandishing a free-wheeling sword, by slashing the ball in all directions, will soon be the way modern cricket will display batsmanship. One looks back at the start of the good old days of Test cricket. Defensive play was looked down upon. A batter had to have the courage and strength to challenge a bowler or succumb boldly to him.
Cricket batting, one feels, will soon take a full circle.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)