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Stoking the first-class vs IPL debate

How grooming a cricketer in the technical and mental aspects helps in his development
Ajinkya Rahane.

Sayak Banerjee   |   Calcutta   |   Published 31.12.20, 01:12 AM

The contrasting views of Ajinkya Rahane and Ravi Shastri on Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj’s climb to the top after their impressive Test debuts at the MCG hasn’t been overlooked by the cricket fraternity. While the stand-in captain believes experience in first-class cricket has been the key to their success at the international level, the head coach credits the Indian Premier League.

For the record, both Shubman and Siraj began their journey through List A and first-class cricket, respectively.

The 21-year-old Shubman played his first-ever game at the senior level in a Vijay Hazare Trophy group-stage game for Punjab (versus Vidarbha) in February 2017 and in the same year, in November, made his Ranji Trophy debut in Amritsar against Bengal, hitting a compact 63. He didn’t have to look back since, accumulating 2287 more first-class runs at a staggering average of 69.11.

He came into the limelight after winning the World Cup with India U-19 in 2018. It earned him an IPL contract with Kolkata Knight Riders. However, if one looks at his performance for India A, it seems more convincing than how he has fared in the three IPLs so far.

Back in August 2019, Shubman, then 19, became the youngest Indian batsman to score a double-century in a first-class match, hitting 204 for India A versus West Indies A at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy in Trinidad and Tobago.

“Shubman had already established himself as a good cricketer at the junior level, so we were grooming him for the big stage through the India A process and then he got a double hundred in the West Indies, which paid him dividends,” former chief selector MSK Prasad told The Telegraph.

“I’ve been travelling with the team for the last few Test series and being with these players helped me a lot. Facing bowlers like Boom (Jasprit Bumrah), Shamibhai and Umeshbhai at nets is a huge confidence booster for any youngster,” Shubman said . 

Siraj, who came from a humble background, started with tennis ball cricket and is still being “passionate” about it. He made his first-class debut for Hyderabad in November 2015. Siraj too attributed his impressive showing at the Boxing Day Test to “India A tours and domestic cricket”, with just a passing mention of the IPL. 

“IPL helps these youngsters in regard to their mental aspect, not the technical side. Going through the grind of the IPL helps them absorb pressure,” MSK explained.

That first-class cricket is fundamental to the growth of a cricketer cannot be denied. But what about those who score tonnes of runs and take lots of wickets in Ranji plate group games?

For instance, what lies ahead for someone like 28-year-old Rahul Dalal — former Haryana player who top-scored 
in last season’s Ranji with 1340 runs for Arunachal Pradesh?

“Take a look at Rex Singh (left-arm quick of Manipur, who took all 10 wickets in a Cooch Behar Trophy game versus Arunachal in December 2018). If he can get selected in the India U-19 squad (for four-day matches versus South Africa U-19), why can’t others?

“You just need to look at the positives,” former India wicketkeeper-batsman Deep Dasgupta pointed out.

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