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India is set to return to international cricket with a tough tour Down Under and all that skipper Viral Kohli and his boys have in the way of getting themselves in shape for the overseas assignment is the Indian Premier League (IPL).
The ongoing training sessions for their respective franchises will, by extension, serve as the best and only chance for the India regulars to perfect their bowling strides and bat swing before they go to battle against Australia.
Days after the dust settles on IPL, Season 13, the squad which is to be picked for the tour Down Under, will gather for a short camp in India before boarding the flight to Australia.
Currently sitting atop the ICC World Test Championship table, Team India would look to pull further away from their hosts, who are currently second, as well as third-placed England, by doing an encore of the Test series win on their last visit. The full series will comprise four Tests and three one-day internationals.
Knowing full well that the cash-rich domestic showpiece event offers them the best platform to get into gear for the Australia series, fast bowler Mohammad Shami, who plies his IPL trade for Kings XI Punjab (KXIP), said all India regulars have their sights firmly set on the series Down Under.
Speaking to news agency Press Trust India, the bowling spearhead said, “It’s great that the Australia-bound players will feature in the IPL. It will set the body and momentum perfectly by then (the Australia series). I feel it’s better that we are playing the IPL before a big series. Apart from the IPL, everyone is also focussed on that tour. There is a lot of talk about that series. We will have a good contest.”
Saying he was happy to be back in the thick of action after a fairly long spell under lockdown, Shami said, “It’s been a long time since we played cricket. Everyone is happy like kids in a candy store after getting back to the sport they love the most. We had a practice match on Thursday. I didn’t face any issues. Everyone is getting back to rhythm. I didn’t feel much of (a) difference (as he had been bowling at his farmhouse).”
The significance of the upcoming series isn’t lost on Team India as their overseas Test series against New Zealand ended in defeat and captain Kohli and his boys would be desperate to regain the winning momentum to stay top of the pile in the ICC Test Championship points table.
While the India regulars have already set sights on the tour, young talents who are regularly discussed at selection meetings and keeps pushing the established stars in the Indian team through their performances in domestic cricket and on A-tours, see the IPL as a springboard to being named in the Australia-bound squad.
While Team India has a fairly settled combination in both Test matches and limited overs cricket, there is a healthy competition for places.
While the likes of KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw and Shubhman Gill are snapping at the heels of regular Test openers Mayank Agarwal and Rohit Sharma, keeper-bat Rishabh Pant, with all unbridled talent at his disposal, is no longer a certainty in limited overs teams, with Rahul doing the glovework and the fellow tribesmen Sanju Samson and Ishan Kishan waiting in the wings.
With Wriddhiman Saha seen as a better keeper in the longer format, especially in overseas conditions, the Delhi dasher often has to sit out Test matches as well and bide his time.
Shah and Gill, who have won India caps but are yet to cement their places in the team in either of the three formats, are eyeing bumper returns this IPL to press for a longer run in international cricket.
Shaw was picked in the India squad for the last Australia tour but picked up an injury fielding on the boundary line in a practice game, which eventually ruled him out of the Test series. He would hope to be injury-free in his bid to earn back his place in the Test team. Gill, who opens for Punjab in Ranji Trophy as well as on A-tours, has been piling on the runs in the hope of being considered as a Test opener for India.
However, it won’t be easy to break into a line-up which has a settled opening pair in Mayank Agarwal and Rohit Sharma, with Rahul as back-up in case one of them is unavailable. Not to forget the out-of-favour Shikhar Dhawan, who still hasn’t given up hope of returning as a Test opener. They would all go into the IPL with their eye on a bigger prize – winning a ticket for that flight to Australia.
A foot in the door
India prides itself at having, arguably, the best bowling attack in contemporary Test match cricket, it doesn’t take away from the fact there is a wealth of untapped talent that is waiting to burst on the international stage. The IPL will, hence, set the stage for the likes of Prasidh Krishna, Shivam Mavi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Avesh Khan to add to India’s pace bowling riches.
The likes of Karnataka southpaw Devdutt Padikkal and the hugely promising UP batter Priyam Garg are also among the young guns who hope to light up the event with their batting pyrotechnics.
Padikkal has tallied 650 runs in 13 List-A matches at a strike rate of 78.40. He has 5 fifties and 2 hundreds in this format. However, it’s his record in the shortest that won him an IPL contract. In 12 domestic T20Is, he has scored 580 runs at a strike rate of 175.75. His highest in this format is an unbeaten 122. The tall left-hander, who has even drawn comparisons with Yuvraj Singh for his big-hitting prowess, has been striking it clean in practice and hopes to take his power hitting form into the tournament.
The 19-year-old Garg, who led the India Under-19s to the final of the 2019 World Cup, also boasts of an impressive career graph racking up 5 fifties and 2 hundreds on way to 867 runs in just 12 first-class matches. He has totaled 227 runs in 11 domestic T20Is, with his best being 59 not out. Already touted as the big batting hope of his state, Uttar Pradesh and the country, Garg is keen to make his debut IPL season count.
As it has been with the IPL from the time it was conceived, the upcoming season will throw up some uncapped talents who may go on serve Indian cricket for a long time. If their stars so align and the selectors have a clear mandate to look to the future, some of these talents may even be on the flight to Australia.