IPL and the India selection debate
When the Indian Premier League came into being, with all its drama and cricket, the Men in Blue were a formidable unit. They were climbing atop the Test rankings and the ODI unit was more or less a chosen one. The 2011 World Cup was in sight and only a few spots remained open, even as the Test champions' golden mace came home a year prior.
Five years on and the Indian team is in deep flux. There are more and more places opening up in the eleven and the ODI unit needs a bit of rebuilding, especially when they will be defending their title in Australia. Yes the selectors need to dig deep into domestic cricket in India. But this also throws another poser at them: what of the IPL performances?
Let us rewind the clock a bit here and look at some fringe Indian names that made waves in the first four editions of the IPL, in terms of both runs and wickets. In 2008, Manpreet Gony and Piyush Chawla were among the top wicket-takers while Yusuf Pathan and Rohit Sharma were among the top run-getters. In South Africa, in 2009, Rohit was again making headlines, while RP Singh was in a comeback mode. Pragyan Ojha showed he could be the next big spin hope for India.
Back in India in 2010, Murali Vijay and Saurabh Tiwary caught eyebrows while Ojha grabbed the Purple Cap. Behind him were Amit Mishra and R Vinay Kumar. And last year, straight after the World Cup, Paul Valthaty stole the headlines as did S Aravind and Iqbal Abdullah.
Now, it is not to say that IPL performances have never been taken into consideration, for quite a few of these names have been handed India caps in the ensuing ODI and T20 tournaments. Gony is a name that comes to the fore in this light as also recently Saurabh Tiwary. Their forays into the national squad have been brief. Gony didn't really impress as his pace is not daunting enough while the movement he generated seems non-existent now. Tiwary might still get a look again but needs a lot many runs than those scored in the IPL alone, and they too are in short supply.
Vijay, Vinay Kumar and Aravind have all found the spotlight on them consistently. Yet for some odd reason, they have failed to shine. Vijay was at one time India's reserve opener. At present he is the reserve opener for Chennai Super Kings. That is some major downfall. As for Vinay Kumar, his Perth adventure earlier in the year should have dashed any hopes of playing further Test cricket, though he could still turn out to be a decent limited-overs bowler if he can gain a little more consistency. Aravind is much on the same track, albeit a few stations behind.
For others, like Mishra and RP, the IPL works as nothing more than a comeback vehicle. But would it work for them? Mishra's pace is quite slow for his leg-breaks to cause any trouble, home or away, while RP is nowhere near the form he possessed in 2007. Meanwhile, Rohit and Ojha have been the only ones to consistently match the IPL numbers in the Ranji Trophy. Abdullah and Valthaty are at different ends of a wide performance spectrum and only just realising that repeating their earlier performances is quite important. While the young spinner seems to have what it takes to be a long-term prospect, the latter, who made quite a name opening for Kings XI Punjab last year, is in danger of being a one-time wonder.
Perhaps only Jadeja has truly gained from this tournament, for his rise - despite serving a one-year ban - has been nothing short of meteoric. Even so, to consider him a sure shot in the playing eleven is foolish. The Australian sojourn amply showed that he can only be a force to reckon with in Indian conditions, that too when things go his way. And so the search for an allrounder continues.
The point here is to highlight that IPL performances have been given due credence along with First Class ones. But they have been more towards the limited-overs game and have almost always been found out to be the wrong options at that particular time.
For a cricketer in this country, there is no bigger platform to grab attention than the IPL. But does this mean that when a cricketer makes a statement via the IPL, it should go unnoticed, because past experiments haven't proven successful? The answer is a blatant no.
Ajinkya Rahane today has made it amply clear that he is now ready to make the first eleven of the Indian cricket team, irrespective of the formats. And he has runs, both in the IPL and the Ranji Trophy, to back this claim. Clearly, he can no longer be neglected, whatever the cost.
That leaves the first selection meeting, after this two-month long tournament, a highly interesting one.