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Unmukt Chand remembers his debut in cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) quite well. The young Delhi Daredevils player first turned out against Mumbai Indians at home in April 2011. His stay at the wicket lasted two balls, his middle stump uprooted by a stinging in-swinger from Sri Lankan Lasith Malinga.

Two days later, he faced Australian Shane Warne against Rajasthan Royals at Jaipur. Going for an early cut on a sharp leg-spinner, he edged the 10th delivery he faced, held superbly by one of the best slip catchers of all time, Rahul Dravid.

Unmukt Chand. Photo: Hindustan Times
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Unmukt Chand. Photo: Hindustan Times

At the time of speaking, after his first full domestic season with Delhi in January, nearly two years on, and with a lot more cricket under his belt, he still seemed to be in awe of the Australian legend and the Sri Lankan “toe-crusher". That is true of every young cricketer plying his trade in the IPL today. Never mind the money, they will tell you, it is the opportunity to play with the greats of the game; that experience is priceless.

Perhaps this is the greatest positive effect of this Twenty20 extravaganza that explodes in stadiums across the country and pours out from television screens into our living rooms for six weeks as soon as summer beckons.

Take the case of Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Hanuma Vihari. He was part of Chand’s Under-19 World Cup-winning team last year. Despite a good run-in to that tournament, he scored only 71 runs in six matches, getting lost subsequently in the clamour around his other teammates. Away from the limelight, he had a decent Ranji 2012-13 season for Hyderabad, scoring 511 runs in eight matches at an average of 39.30.

Paul Valthaty. Photo: Hindustan Times
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Paul Valthaty. Photo: Hindustan Times

“Getting Gayle out was a huge moment indeed," Vihari said in the prelude to the Sunrisers’ match against Delhi Daredevils on 12 April. “It helps boost confidence as a youngster who is trying to make a mark. The IPL is a big opportunity in that sense. I get to bat at No.5 and in this format, batting at that spot is a massive challenge."

Vihari usually likes to bat at No.3, so logically that is a demotion, for No.5 batsmen usually face fewer deliveries. Yet, it is more about batting with the likes of the captain Kumar Sangakkara (who is from Sri Lanka), holding one end together while Australian Cameron White goes berserk at the other end, or finishing off the match if the Sri Lankan big-hitter Thisara Perera gets out.

Swapnil Asnodkar (right). Photo: Hindustan Times
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Swapnil Asnodkar (right). Photo: Hindustan Times

Moody spells out perhaps the most vital aspect of this exposure: “Playing competitive sport, you either progress to the next level or you get found out easily."

This is where the distinction between success and failure becomes clear. The IPL doesn’t guarantee selection in the national team despite a mountain of runs or a heap of wickets. It just takes a young, obscure cricketer and puts him under the spotlight, with the added burden of hype. Thereafter it is a matter not only of hard work but also talent.

Sometimes, a player breaks through, like Chennai Super Kings’ Ravindra Jadeja, challenging the boundaries set at every level and by each format of the game. On the flip side, there are players like Swapnil Asnodkar and Paul Valthaty. They had good inaugural seasons, taking the opposition teams by surprise, only to return the next year and find that their scoring areas had been blocked. The runs stopped flowing, and eventually Asnodkar was dropped by Rajasthan Royals. Valthaty has been sitting on the Kings XI Punjab bench for quite some time now.

Kamran Khan. Photo: Hindustan Times
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Kamran Khan. Photo: Hindustan Times

The IPL is a bit like a coin, maybe one of those specially minted ones used for the toss ahead of every game. Heads, and there are endless riches and glorious moments; tails, and there’s a downward curve, mostly a spiralling one, sometimes with no end in sight.

Chetan Narula is the author of Skipper: A Definitive Account of India’s Greatest Captains.

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