The Indian Premier League (IPL), since its inception in 2008, has given a lot of youngsters the opportunity to play international cricket.
Pocketing multi-million dollar deals, brushing shoulders with the biggest names in the game and showcasing their mettle in front of a global audience has allowed these cricketers to make the most of their acquired skills while securing the future of those who are not fortunate enough to make it to the top.
With the 2018 IPL auctions around the corner, 578 players — among them 360 Indians — will be eyeing lucrative contracts with the eight teams. There's no denying India's domestic T20 league has generated wealth for a large number of players. So does that mean it'll soon become the 'final frontier' for many a domestic player?
For 26-year-old Rahul Tripathi, who was bought by Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) for Rs 10 Lakh last year, "IPL helps you achieve the Team India dream. That said, financial security is also important since it allows you to concentrate on your game without worrying about anything else."
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Tripathi, who scored 391 runs from 14 matches, is "looking forward to being a part of this year's IPL and would be happy to play for any team."
Describing his last stint as a 'great experience', Tripathi reminisced the time he spent playing alongside his 'idol' Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
"You learn so much just by looking at M.S.D- both on and off the field. Those two months (with Pune Supergiant) helped me to improve my game. Just before I played my first match, Dhoni bhai came up to me and advised me not to take too much pressure, that it's just another game, another opportunity for me to go and express myself. When someone of his stature tells you this, it helps you relax. After that, I was like, ' Chalo yaar, thik hai ... (laughs)'.
"This one time, I wasn't playing the bouncers well. So, after the match, he called me to his room and told me ' Agli match se tumhein bouncer aaenge, dhyaan rakhna .' He kept giving me these small tips throughout the season."
Tamil Nadu spinner R. Sai Kishore concurred with Tripathi. "I don't see it (IPL) as a 'big-money ' league. For me, it's a shortcut to playing for the country," he said adding, "Earlier, you had players playing four-five seasons of Ranji Trophy before earning an India call-up and now, two good seasons in the IPL, and you could be playing for India."
'IPL great stepping stone'
Sai Kishore's team-mate, wicket-keeper batsman N. Jagadeesan, who was shortlisted by Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) to replace K. L. Rahul last season, reckons, "IPL will be a great stepping stone for youngsters, but I don't think it'll be the final frontier."
Jagadeesan, who has already trialled for Rajasthan, Delhi and Mumbai, doesn't "have any expectations for this year's auction because you never know what is going to happen."
However, a chance to replace India international Rahul in the IPL continues to be his abiding memory.
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He recalled, "It was an excellent feeling. I had to go for the trials where I played against some quality international bowlers like Shane Watson, Tymal Mills and Adam Milne. We had an open wicket practice where each one of us batted for about 20-25 minutes. They asked us to play freely; like we usually do in a game.
"More than anything else, when you're up against international quicks who're regular starters in their respective teams, it just feels good."
IPL for honing skills
For Karnataka leg-spinner, Kishore Kamath, who was lapped up by Mumbai Indians (MI) in 2016 for a whopping Rs 1.4 crore, entering the MI dressing room for the first time was an unnerving experience.
"Being a youngster, I was quite nervous at first — walking into a dressing room full of stars," the 22-year-old said adding, "But with time, I gelled with my team-mates like a family. At no point did anyone of us feel the difference between senior and junior players."
About the IPL trumping everything else, the all-rounder believes "it's important to hone the skills in tournaments like the IPL - in that sense, it's a great stage."
"Everyone aspires to play for the country one day but breaking into the Indian team is a tough ask. You've got so many players vying for one spot," he said.
Kamath, who first shot to fame with his exploits in Karnataka's domestic T20 League KPL, explained, "There's, of course, a lot of money involved. Hence, it helps players whose finances are not stable.
"But above everything else, with the emergence of T20 leagues like the KPL and TNPL, kids have started playing at an early age. A lot of youngsters from my hometown come to the cricket field to practise.
"Growing up, we didn't have such a huge influx, so it's very pleasing to me. The number of opportunities has grown considerably. That's a big plus for people who've just taken up the sport."
Mumbai's star-studded line-up meant Kamath didn't get any game time but "didn't quite affect his morale." The all-rounder, though, distinctly remembers a conversation he had with Sachin Tendulkar.
"There're a lot of memories, so it's difficult to pick one," he said adding, "I once had a chat with Sachin which is one of my favourites. I hail from a small town called Hubali in Karnataka and Sachin told me about this time he had come to Hubali in 1989 to play a Ranji match! It was a great moment for me."
'IPL has changed lives'
Gurkeerat Mann, who made his ODI debut in Melbourne, is 'excited' about the upcoming auctions.
The all-rounder, who was signed by Kings XI Punjab in 2012, is of the opinion that "not everyone gets the chance to play in the highest echelons of the game. And IPL has changed lives of many players. But that said, it provides a great platform for cricketers who want to go on to play for India."
Gurkeerat was re-signed by Kings XI in 2014 for Rs 1.3 crore and has been with the franchise since. He admits "too many opportunities haven't come my way, but it has been a great learning curve. Obviously, every cricketer wants to play more matches, but in the end, it all boils down to the team combination and what's best for the team. It isn't about the individual."
While critics might argue that the overwhelming commercial pulse of the IPL is a cause of worry for Indian cricket, it continues to be a fresh lease of life for many.
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