The 16th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) will begin on March 31 as teams will return to their respective home grounds for the first time in four years.
While a host of overseas stars and the newly-introduced ‘Impact Player’ will be among the key attractions, the IPL 2023 season will also prove to be a stage for several Indian stars to throw their hat into the ring as the Men in Blue build towards the ODI World Cup and T20 World Cup in 2024.
Sportstar takes a look at five players who can take the IPL season as an opportunity to cement their spots in the national side and leave a huge impact for their respective franchises:
KL Rahul enters his second stint as Lucknow Super Giants captain with his immediate India career shrouded by uncertainty. The 30-year-old is perhaps not a guaranteed starter in the T20I setup any more. Rahul also lost the cushion of Test vice-captaincy during the recently-concluded Border-Gavaskar Trophy series on the back of poor performances.
Rahul continues to employ a watchful approach while opening the batting. During the LSG jersey launch for the season earlier this month, the Karnataka batter defended his opinion on strike rates. “I think strike rate is over-rated. But it depends upon the demand, like if you chase 140 - you don’t need to go with 200 strike rate - it depends upon the current situation.”
On the contrary, Rahul perhaps has himself to blame for LSG’s defeat in the IPL Eliminator last year where his sluggish 58-ball 79 derailed a 208-run chase against Royal Challengers Bangalore. The 2023 season will hence mark Rahul’s biggest test in terms of leadership and new-age batsmanship.
Ravindra Jadeja’s stupendous comeback from a five-month injury layoff helped India retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy for a record fourth time in succession. Jadeja’s left-arm spin puzzled the best of Australian bats as he scalped 22 wickets in the series. The 34-year-old, however, has been floundering with the bat.
While he has yet to play a T20I match for India since his return, the three-dimensional Jadeja will undoubtedly take the IPL season to rebuild himself towards India’s ODI World Cup ambitions. However, a surging clone in Axar Patel will offer a challenge for Jadeja. Having given up his maiden Chennai Super Kings captaincy stint midway through a horrid run last season, Jadeja will fall back on his tried and tested role as MS Dhoni’s go-to spinner. With CSK returning to their ‘den’ at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai for the first time since 2019, Jadeja will have the perfect stage to begin firing on all cylinders.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar led the T20I bowling charts for India in 2022 (37 wickets) despite not being at his dominant best. The 33-year-old’s relevance in the limited-overs setup has plummeted since the T20 World Cup exit in November. Bhuvneshwar also opted to sit out of the domestic season and will now have a chance to prove a point upon return with the Sunrisers Hyderabad.
While his IPL returns have not been fruitful in recent seasons, Bhuvneshwar leads the charts among Indian fast bowlers in the league’s history with 154 wickets. SRH will bank their swing merchant to return to his best and probably chart a path back to national reckoning.
Axar Patel’s batting has been a refreshing gain for the national side since the start of the home season. While there have been flashes of skill in the past, Axar finally came into his element during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy where he finished as the third-highest run-getter, amassing 264 runs at an average of 88. In January, the 29-year-old slammed a 31-ball 65 - his career-best - besides two wickets in a narrow 16-run T20I defeat against Sri Lanka. Axar topped it with another cameo during a win in the series decider.
The left-arm spinner will be an integral part of India’s bowling stocks in the lead-up to the upcoming ODI World Cup and T20 World Cup in 2024. Axar will also be in the spotlight as he will play deputy to David Warner for the Delhi Capitals this season after Rishabh Pant was ruled out of the tournament.
While his frenetic striking can leave one awestruck on his day, Prithvi Shaw has endured a rough track - on and off the pitch - this domestic season. Left out from the national setup since mid-2021, Shaw finally received a call back to the T20I squad in January. While his U19 mate Shubman Gill has established his class across all formats of the game, Shaw currently has to make do as one of the backup options.
Shaw had a rocky white-ball season for Mumbai. However, courtesy of a record-breaking 379 in the Ranji Trophy in December, the 23-year-old was finally deemed worthy of a national call-up again. In Rishabh Pant’s absence, Shaw has his chance to grab centre stage for the Delhi Capitals with the bat. There is no question of talent. Shaw has the highest T20 strike rate among all Indians who have faced at least 1000 balls in the format to date. If the Mumbaikar can cash in and rack up a 500-plus season, the dynamic opener can be India’s primary choice on the road to the 2024 T20 World Cup.
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