Giving a leg-up!

The biggest benefit from the League is that domestic players get to play with and against their international heroes, soon the awe-factor is replaced with the ‘we can compete against the very-best’ belief and it enormously helps that global icons have encouraged their unsung Indian mates, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

The Indian Premier League exists at multiple levels: The high-pitched, hyped Twenty20 product; the level playing field where players are shaken from their comfort zones of provinces and nationalities, and mixed up together which lends to the fulfilment of fan-fantasies — M. S. Dhoni and Brendon McCullum at Chennai Super Kings or Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle and A. B. de Villiers at Royal Challengers Bangalore; and most importantly for Indian cricket, the IPL is a vehicle that also propels players on the fringes, into the spotlight and under the unrelenting jaws of pressure, a star is born!

Ajinkya Rahane, a fine batsman with a remarkable record so far in Tests, initially had to bust so many pre-conceived notions about him — he is small-built and that he may not cope with the big boys. But the IPL, thanks largely to his association with the Rajasthan Royals, has helped him erase those judgemental lines and he has held his own in a dugout that has Shane Watson, Steve Smith and James Faulkner. And in the current season, Rahane emerged as the Royals’ leading run-scorer (540) while the Aussie trio perhaps failed to shake off their hangover from winning the World Cup. However, there is no mistaking the influence and inspiration they wielded within the Royals set-up, not to mention the presence of mentor Rahul Dravid, whose zen-like disposition finds a resemblance in Rahane.

If Rahane’s growth was about breaking set-moulds into which we forced him into, Sanju Samson’s was about proving that he can get past the limitations of playing for a small State like Kerala, and show that he can rub shoulders with the Rahanes and Watsons, besides squaring up against fine opposition players. The wicketkeeper-batsman used the IPL platform to break into the Indian ODI squad once but he is yet to get a game.

And when we talk about Royals, can we forget the 40-plus Pravin Tambe, the leg-spinner, who found his way into the Mumbai team and the Royals’ dugout at an age when men decide to invest in pension-policies. Tambe proved that he can cope with the stress and strain of the game’s shortest version.

It is not just about cricketers breaking stereotypes, the impediments of playing for a State with limited clout or the age-factor, the IPL has also been a redemptive path for a few. Not many might recall that Ambati Rayudu and Stuart Binny almost kissed their India-cap hopes good-bye when they signed up for the rebel Indian Cricket League.

Having suffered a subsequent ban and then embracing an amnesty offer, the duo, split by teams — Mumbai Indians and Royals — used the IPL to further strengthen their credentials. Eventually both represented India and none can grudge the league’s role in pushing their cause.

The league’s history is lit up by tales like these and even in 2009, Manish Pandey’s stirring ton for Royal Challengers Bangalore against Deccan Chargers in South Africa, caught the eye. It is another matter that he is yet to play for India but he remains a contender and it all started with that tag ‘the first Indian to score an IPL hundred.’

The biggest benefit from the League is that domestic players get to play with and against their international heroes, soon the awe-factor is replaced with the ‘we can compete against the very-best’ belief and it enormously helps that global icons have encouraged their unsung Indian mates. In the RCB dressing room, de Villiers has taken Sarfaraz Khan and Mandeep Singh under his wing. Kohli and Gayle too gift them a paternal gaze and the stirring knocks the two have dished out is proof of that feeling of being welcome within the team.

It is not just about batsmen and even a bowler like Mohammed Shami broke through as bowling chief Wasim Akram at Kolkata Knight Riders and the then KKR think-tank member W.V. Raman pushed his cause.

The IPL may lean heavily on hype, but despite that flaw, there is no mistaking the way in which it has helped players shed their shadows and embrace the light. Even Harbhajan Singh, with an indifferent first-class season, found a berth in the Indian Test squad for the Bangladesh tour, just riding on his performance with the Mumbai Indians! Howzzat?