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Delhi Daredevils’ Rishabh Pant. Photos: AFP.
Delhi Daredevils’ Rishabh Pant. Photos: AFP.

IPL gets attention, but domestic stats attract selection

Past instances show that heroes of the T20 league are not necessarily worthy of national selection

Ashish Nehra, who came back into the Indian Twenty20 team last year after a gap of five years, could make the team for the Champions Trophy—to be held in England in June—if his Indian Premier League (IPL) form is good. It is not at this stage, which means he is likely to miss out.

On the other hand, Mohammed Shami is not good enough to feature regularly (has played just one game out of six for Delhi Daredevils) in the ongoing IPL, but will be among the first names when the national selectors pick the squad for England.

The contradiction indicates that there is no guarantee that a great IPL will necessarily convert into a national call-up—what matters is a player’s performance leading up to it in domestic or international cricket. The IPL Twenty20 serves to enhance a player’s personality, image and reputation—bringing him to the notice of selectors.

For example, Mumbai Indians’ Nitish Rana and Delhi Daredevils’ Rishabh Pant play for the same state (Delhi) in first-class cricket. Unlike Rana, however, Pant is being seen as the next big hope from India—despite their divergent forms in the IPL.

Rana is the talk of IPL 2017, its fourth highest run-scorer so far, averaging just under 40, with three scores of 50-plus in eight matches as of Tuesday. Pant has one score above 50 in six innings and is ranked 25, though he also does the job of a wicketkeeper. Unlike Rana, however, Pant has been on the selectors’ radar since he played in the Under-19 World Cup in 2016.

Mumbai Indians’ Nitish Rana.
Mumbai Indians’ Nitish Rana.

So Pant’s case will be stronger than Rana’s when the selectors meet to pick a squad for the Champions Trophy (to be held a week after the IPL) this week.

“The Champions Trophy (50 overs a side) is a different ball game in England. You need experienced players for that," says Kiran More, a former chief selector and now a talent manager with Mumbai Indians.

More believes the selectors would have begun thinking about the team for the Champions Trophy even before the IPL started.

Many experts voice caution about IPL success stories—they get disproportionate attention from the media and pundits, but there is a need to understand the distinction between formats.

“When you are picking a T20 team, then (giving weightage to) IPL performance is fine. If I have to pick just a T20 team, then I can think of Rana, but certainly not for ODIs (One Day Internationals). I will see what he has done in the Vijay Hazare tournament," argues Syed Saba Karim, a former India selector.

Over the last four seasons, Karim used to follow the IPL from a selector’s perspective. He has now started a new innings as commentator.

“Even Pant will get a look only if (M.S.) Dhoni is injured. Similarly, someone like Krunal Pandya will be seriously considered if (Ravindra) Jadeja is unfit. However, if (Virat) Kohli gets injured, I won’t consider Rana because he hasn’t done anything of note in domestic cricket, unlike a Pant or Pandya," says Karim.

Over the last two years, 18 players have represented India in the Twenty20 format. Most of the fringe players get their first feel of international cricket through this format; seniors are usually rested unless it’s a world cup season.

In the past, though, a good IPL has helped too—in 2015, Hardik Pandya was propelled into the T20, ODI and Test formats though his numbers in first-class cricket didn’t offer a clue about his potential as an international player.

Vikram Rathour has an explanation for this. “If you really think about his case, we don’t have too many all-rounders, and, more so fast, bowling all-rounders, in domestic cricket. So obviously you want to give a chance to someone like him," says Rathour who, like Karim, was part of the selection committee for four years and was also involved with Kings XI Punjab in the IPL. “But it’s much more difficult for a batsman (to get into the team). Even Karun Nair got dropped after a triple hundred (against England in December) in a Test."

Yusuf Pathan was perhaps the first player to benefit from an outstanding IPL. He played his first ODI in June 2008, immediately after Rajasthan Royals’ triumph in the inaugural IPL, in which he scored 435 runs.

Though Pathan had played a solitary T20 match during the 2007 World Cup final, this was considered his real breakthrough.

However, it was the selection of Manpreet Singh Gony for the Asia Cup in June 2008 after his IPL heroics that underlined the perils of being swayed by the IPL. He was good enough to play just two ODIS.

“Doing well is fine but to get into the Indian team there are other important factors as well. For instance, what is the requirement of the team at that point? Unless there is a place available, and if someone is doing well in that slot, that creates an opportunity (regardless of the IPL)," says Rathour.

Over the last few years, some players have been picked for India despite the IPL. Last year, Vidarbha’s Faiz Fazal played an ODI in Zimbabwe though he had no IPL contract. Jayant Yadav played just three IPL matches in 2015 and five in 2016 for Delhi Daredevils but forced his way into the national team in ODIs and then Tests, based on his first-class record.

There is also one more bias that works against the batsmen. Apart from fierce competition for every slot in the Indian team, there are fewer vacancies in this department. There always seem to be spots available in fast bowling, for example, as someone is usually injured or struggling with form or even being rested.

For instance, “Nitish (Rana) has done well in the IPL but didn’t have a great first-class season, so the onus is now on him to follow it up nicely in the next season," suggests Karim.

What Rana and Pant do after the IPL will be crucial. There is always some India “A" tour coming up and someone getting injured. A good show in the IPL definitely ensures that the player is not out of mind even if he is out of sight.

“There is a better chance of getting picked for India if you have done well in domestic cricket. But if you don’t do well in the IPL after a good first-class season, it affects your chances," says Rathour.

Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.

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