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The IPL's Second Season Has Thrown Up A Bevy Of Young Stars Who Are Poised For The Big Time, Says Susmita Saha   |   Published 14.06.09, 12:00 AM

Stand back for the brand new stars of the season. The young Indian players wielded their bats with ruthless efficiency or sent down their best balls fearlessly to the world’s top cricketers. And when the second season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) came to an end last month, they suddenly found the spotlight turned on them.

Hauling themselves out of cricketing obscurity (none of the players have ever played for Team India), a gritty and gifted bunch of teens and 20-somethings gave their teams a shot in the arm and in the process put themselves under the selectors’ gaze.

Meet Manish Pandey from Royal Challengers Bangalore, Shadab Jakati from Chennai Super Kings, Abhishek Nayar from Mumbai Indians, Sudeep Tyagi from Chennai Super Kings and Pradeep Sangwan from Delhi Daredevils — youngsters, still green behind the ears, who came out and locked horns with the masters of the game.

The IPL turned out to be a great international forum for youngsters hoping to scramble into the big league. Says veteran cricketer Arun Lal: “You get to be on television all the time, play with and against the best in the world and there’s public adulation to top it all.”

Post IPL, things are looking bright for the new achievers and they are already limbering up for a busy cricketing season ahead. Some have already bagged lucrative endorsement deals. Pradeep Sangwan’s representative, Collage Sports Management, for instance, is already in talks with high octane brands like Pepsi and Adidas while Nayar and Pandey have Nike and Reebok labels under their belts, respectively.

Says Rajeev Shukla, member, Governing council, IPL: “The tournament has helped identify the players with aptitude and the respective state associations should take it forward.”

Offers are pouring in from other IPL teams in response to their spectacular performances. Tyagi and Sangwan say that invitations to join other teams are coming thick and fast.

Former Indian captain Ajit Wadekar points out that the new stars who have emerged from the IPL have already demonstrated that they possess the temperament to be international cricketers: “They locked horns with all the cricketing bigwigs”.

This year’s cricketing calendar too is choc-a-bloc with assignments for them. Pandey is scheduled to wield his bat at the T20 Champions League in October. And Tyagi is looking at having some fun with the ball at the upcoming Ranji season as well as matches for the India A team. Bear in mind that for IPL, Ranji players above 19 years of age now earn approximately $50,000 a year. “These players can double or triple their incomes in the IPL Series but they should also look at their next step forward,” says Wadekar.

Then, there’s Sangwan who’s honing his skills for the MRF Trophy and the Buchi Babu All India Invitation tournament while Nayar is gearing up for a few hard-hitting stints at the wicket during the India A tours next month followed by the Irani Trophy, domestic T20 series and the Ranji season.

“One has to follow up the superlative performances on an international platform with good domestic cricket,” says Lal.

Some of these players already have a safety net that will bring in rich rewards — three-year contracts for the IPL with their teams. They’re also looking forward to next season’s IPL for another round of pyrokinetics on the field.

Always remember that success was never served up on a platter. Luckily they were helped to the forefront by a battery of selectors and coaches, who had trained their eyes on fresh talent both from the bustling metros and the smaller towns.

So, you have Ghaziabad lad Sudeep Tyagi, who after getting wickets of Gautam Gambhir and A.B. de Villiers in successive deliveries came home to rue the lack of chapatis in South Africa. “After landing, all I could think of was home-cooked food,” wisecracks Tyagi. The youngster’s 10-wicket haul in his debut Ranji Trophy match against Orissa contributed towards his IPL selection.

Then, there’s Bangalore city slicker Manish Pandey, who went on to become the first Indian to score an IPL century. “I didn’t know the significance of this ton. After an insane stream of congratulations, I could make out that this was big,” says Pandey candidly. Pandey was a member of India’s U-19 World Cup winning side.

Also, in the IPL hall of fame, you’ll find Pradeep Sangwan, who’s from Najafgarh on the rustic outskirts of Delhi, sharing space with Mumbai boy Abhishek Nayar. While Nayar checks out the city’s thriving restaurant and movie scene for fun, Sangwan sits comfortably on one of the many rope charpoys in the family living room. Sangwan’s three wicket haul for 28 runs marked him out in this season’s IPL.

But at the other end of the spectrum, you have Sreevats Goswami whose hobbies include shopping, partying and Facebooking. Goswami (Royal Challengers Bangalore) had a memorable 43-run knock that included six boundaries against Kolkata Knight Riders — though he only played in two matches. “It was significant because we won as a team and attained a momentum. Also, I caught Chris Gayle at a crucial moment in the match,” says Goswami.

All the youngsters have a clear memory of their moment of glory. For Nayar, hitting Andrew Flintoff for 22 in one over ‘was very satisfying.’ “The two things that I could see were the ball and Sachin at the other end, which gave me confidence,” he explains.

Also at the IPL, the team captains allowed the youngsters the chance to bloom. “Dhoni went so far as to say that it’s de rigueur for bowlers to get spanked for sixes and fours in the T-20 format,” says Tyagi.

Teammate Shadab Jakati tells a similar tale. “I remember when Yusuf Pathan hit me for a six. But he (Dhoni) still brought me in the next over and said that I could get Pathan out,” he says. And Jakati didn’t fail his captain.

The IPL skippers also had clear roles for all these players. For the better part of the tournament, Tyagi was given the new ball. “Tyagi is quick, nippy and gets good bounce off the wicket. He bowled very well with the new ball in all matches,” says teammate Jakati.

Jakati himself had a more flexible role. He bowled at various overs depending on the situation. “I bowled after power plays (when there are field restrictions) in a few matches and occasionally in the end overs,” he says.

Similarly, Manish Pandey was told the night before the match by captain Anil Kumble that he might be opening the innings. And Abhishek Nayar was simply told to play his own game. “Nayar’s a player of great calibre,” affirms Wadekar.

The foreign stars also had words of advice. Glenn McGrath suggested that Sangwan should pick up the nuances from former cricketer Manoj Prabhakar after the tournament, while Brett Lee advised Tyagi to go strong on his fitness training. And others shared small tricks of the trade freely. “Murali (Muttiah Muralitharan) always helped me with my bowling queries. The best part of the deal was that he was also keen to learn from me,” says Jakati about his senior teammate.

But make no mistake. These players have worked their fingers to the bone in the run-up to the IPL’s second season. Tyagi slogged it out at numerous friendly matches in Ghaziabad before joining the training camp held in Bangalore before IPL. Goswami had earlier played the U-19 Tri-Nation Series in South Africa. So, he tried to mentally focus on the bouncy South African wickets.

Nayar too has a rigorous workout regimen in place which he carries forward to his non-tournament days. A regular day has him getting up at the crack of dawn for a spot of Yoga, followed by working on his cricketing skills and then hitting the gym. “Nayar has been consistently good for the last couple of years,” says Lal.

Even Pandey had an exacting training camp schedule one month prior to the series, consisting of two sessions daily, each one spanning more than three hours. Goswami, on the other hand, had his regular cricket practice regimen along with running and gymming.

However, the South African cricketing frenzy was about guts and also glamour. Najafgarh’s resident celebrity Sangwan gushes about his brush with Bollywood diva Shilpa Shetty: “I hugged her and the only thing I could think at that moment was how incredibly tall she was.”

For tough hitter Pandey, team owner Vijay Mallya was the celebrity of the moment. He was jubilant when Mallya paid him a “You are my hero” compliment and former captain of Royal Challengers Bangalore Kevin Pietersen called up to congratulate him. Nayar recounts how Nita Ambani camped with the Mumbai Indians team for five days in South Africa to cheer them on, though her children had exams back home.

All these players also took time out to do the rounds of South African game parks and check out other tourist attractions. “We were at the Shamwari Game Reserve and it was an incredible thing to gawk at deadly beasts just at an arm’s length,” says Nayar. Sangwan, however, claims that indulging in water sports with artificial machine generated waves in Sun City — a place he recalls from childhood as the venue for Aishwarya Rai’s Miss World ceremony — was memorable.

What about the future? These players are young and they say they are on a long haul flight. Wadekar points out that they should all ultimately aspire to play for the country: “Team India inevitably is the final destination for many of the newcomers. And they have an edge over other aspirants by virtue of being on an international stage. The incredible visibility will obviously work in their favour.”

However, cautions the former Indian captain, the bigger matches will test their mettle like no other: “After all, performance is the name of the game.”        

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