The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (SMAT), India’s premier domestic T20 tournament, hardly ever draws large crowds. But it remains highly significant for the country’s cricket system and the national selectors, especially with the upcoming T20 World Cup just seven months away. Selectors Salil Ankola and Shiv Sundar Das were in attendance when Punjab secured its first title, defeating Baroda in a thrilling high-scoring final at the IS Bindra Stadium in Mohali. This year’s tournament has aligned well with international T20 trends, emphasising aggressive batting and placing less emphasis on wicket preservation.
The tournament run rate was 8.09, with the overall rate being 8.01 in all T20 matches played this year so far. It also saw the most number of sixes being hit (1503) in the history of SMAT.
Setting the tone
The second day of the tournament saw plenty of records breaking, with Punjab smacking the highest score of 275/6 against Andhra while recording the most sixes hit in an innings by an Indian T20 team (22). On the same day, Ashutosh Sharma’s 11-ball fifty for Railways against Arunachal Pradesh broke the long-standing record of Yuvraj Singh’s 12-ball fifty, which he scored against England in the inaugural World T20 in 2007.
In Punjab’s successful campaign, 23-year-old Abhishek Sharma played a major role, scoring 485 runs at a strike rate of 192.46. The opener hit 39 sixes and found the fence (both fours and sixes) every 3.4 balls. He was rightfully adjudged the Player of the Tournament.
Proving their mettle
Meanwhile, Riyan Parag’s purple patch continued unabated. The 21-year-old was the highest run-scorer in the Deodhar Trophy (354) and he followed it up with seven consecutive fifty-plus scores in SMAT. He amassed 510 runs, becoming only the third player to cross the 500-run mark in the tournament, at a staggering average of 85 while striking at 182.79.
But it was not only about Parag but also about Assam’s development as a burgeoning white-ball powerhouse. For the first time in the tournament’s history, the Land of Blues secured a top-four finish. Apart from first-time captain Parag, Rishav Das, and Sumit Ghadigaonkar also left a mark.
Under the spotlight
Bhuvneshwar Kumar had a satisfying return for Uttar Pradesh, finishing as the joint-third highest wicket-taker with 16 scalps, while Yuzvendra Chahal secured 11 victims in seven innings. Sanju Samson’s performance didn’t leave a lasting impression, as he scored 138 runs in six innings. Harshal Patel, who also opened for Haryana in six games, had an underwhelming tournament, ending with seven wickets and 124 runs. Umran Malik, Mukesh Kumar, Washington Sundar, Avesh Khan, and Arshdeep Singh also made minimal impact in most games.
Rinku Singh, Tilak Varma, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ravi Bishnoi, and Yashasvi Jaiswal showcased their potential. Rinku performed well in the lower order, scoring 256 runs at a strike rate of over 170. Tilak hit a century against Baroda, while Gaikwad achieved the same feat against Vidarbha. Jaiswal provided quickfire starts for Mumbai.
With Hardik Pandya sidelined for a few weeks, the Indian selectors will be looking for his replacement, both in the short and long term. Shivam Dube and Venkatesh Iyer had opportunities but didn’t make a significant impact. Dube scored 190 runs for Mumbai, and Iyer managed 122 in five games for Madhya Pradesh. Pace-bowling all-rounders like Sanvir Singh and Abhimanyusingh Rajput also showed potential. However, they may need more time to gain widespread attention.
Leg spin taking a quick turn
Chahal faces stiff competition from Ravi Bishnoi, who has already played 16 T20Is for India. Bishnoi’s quick leg spin aligns with the new T20 trend. Representing Gujarat, he took 13 wickets in eight games with an economy just above six.
However, a rising star, Suyash Sharma, outshone both spinners. Bowling for Delhi, he secured 18 wickets in just seven games, making him the joint-second-highest wicket-taker in the tournament. What’s remarkable is his economy rate of 4.64.
What’s in there for the Indian team?
The likes of Riyan Parag, Abhishek Sharma and Suyash Sharma did well at SMAT but looking ahead at the T20 World Cup, are they ready for the international stage?
India will also play five T20Is against Australia at home immediately after the ongoing ODI World Cup, where some of the top performers from this competition could get a look in. The future looks promising.
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