With the Indian Premier League (IPL) retention saga drawing to a close, focus shifts onto the auction where teams will quest after a band of domestic and international talent to plug the gaps in their squads.
Scouts from IPL franchises have been traversing across the country, closely following the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (SMAT) and the Vijay Hazare Trophy (VHT) matches to identify the next generation of domestic stars that could make it count on the big stage.
One of the players the scouts have keenly cast their eye upon is young wicketkeeper-batter Kumar Kushagra from Jharkhand. The 19-year-old has been making waves in domestic cricket with his dominant batting performances across formats.
A batter brimming with confidence, unafraid to put the pressure back on the bowlers by taking them on is a facet that is sure to interest most IPL teams.
After starting out as an opener in his younger days, Kushagra has transitioned well into playing the middle-order role for his state team, where he is required to finish the innings well on most occasions rather than score big.
“I have been practising over the last two years to improve my hitting. I try to look for singles as soon as I come into bat and not play too many dots, and if there is any bowler I fancy, I have the confidence to go after him and don’t wait till I am set,” the young batter told Sportstar.
“I have worked on my strength which is very important if you want to convert those yorkers into sixes. I practise with two or three types of balls, first a heavy type and then the leather cricket balls to ensure that I get the power,” he added.
Kushagra’s first rendezvous with the limelight came in 2022, when the then 18-year-old scored a 250 in the Ranji Trophy against Nagaland, becoming the youngest to ever do so.
He had earlier been part of the Indian U-19 squad for the 2020 World Cup held in South Africa, where the team led by Priyam Garg finished runners-up to Bangladesh after a tense finale.
He only got one game in the tournament, with India preferring Dhruv Jurel in the wicket-keeper role. In his only outing, he scored an unbeaten 13 as an opener, while the team chased down the 42-run target within five overs against Japan.
Kushagra, though, only has positives to take from that stint despite the limited playing time. “It was a great experience at such a young age. We had coaches like Paras Mhambrey and Rahul Dravid. We had a lot to learn from them,” he said.
The gloveman’s stocks rose after a commendable campaign in the 2023 Deodhar Trophy in Puducherry where he aggregated 227 runs in six innings, as part of the East Zone team that finished runner-up.
After a middling SMAT 2023 campaign with just 111 runs scored in six innings, Kushagra began the VHT campaign on the right note, scoring 67 runs off just 36 balls.
Chasing a mammoth 355-run target against Maharashtra, the wicket-keeper batter smashed five sixes and four fours, after coming in at 252 for four to see his team across the finish line.
With more group-stage matches and the knockout fixtures coming up in the VHT, Kushagra is focussed on winning games for his team rather than playing to impress.
“It obviously stays in the back of your mind that there is a possibility that you might be picked [by IPL teams]. As a player, you always want to continue rising to higher levels. But the thought goes away when the match begins,” Kushagra said.
“Winning the match is the most important thing. If I start doing this right then things will fall in place automatically.”
While his U-19 teammates Yashasvi Jaiswal, Ravi Bishnoi and Tilak Varma have already set the IPL alight and have made the step into Indian colours, Kushagra’s time might just be a beat away.
- Pro Kabaddi League Semifinals, PKL 10 Live Score: Jaipur Pink Panthers trails 13-19 vs Haryana Steelers; Puneri Paltan wins 37-21 vs Patna Pirates
- MI-W vs UP-W Live Score Updates WPL 2024: Kiran, Alyssa drive UP in chase of 162; Live Streaming Info
- Sportstar Sports Conclave ‘Focus Punjab’ puts youth development and athlete issues on centre-stage
- Shreyas Iyer, Ishan Kishan dropped from BCCI annual contracts list; Rohit, Virat, Jadeja, Bumrah retained in Grade A+
- Prague Masters 2024: Praggnanandhaa crushes Keymer in opener; Vidit, Gukesh draw