Kohli to Shaw: Who’s Moved Up, Down in Cricket’s Commercial Bazaar
Amrit Mathur looks at how Indian players are doing in cricket’s commercial bazaar.
Cricketers are celebrities, modern-day royalty, and 'brands' in a world increasingly driven by commerce. The Indian Premiere League (IPL) puts a monetary value on a player and the market decides the price of each asset. A player’s 'value' depends on performance, and whether his stock goes up or down is explained by cricket's wisdom that says the cheque book is linked to the score book.
We look at how some of the players are doing in cricket's commercial bazaar.
Who's Going up?
Virat Kohli is equivalent to the Diwali rocket, the sputnik, and the latest missile launched from Sriharikota that is relentlessly going up and up. King Kohli wields enormous power, and with the team on a roll, he’s far ahead of any competition – and simply unstoppable.
Driven by a never-seen-before hunger for excellence, Kohli the batsman is unmatched. It had for long been believed that Sachin Tendulkar occupied a place that would never be matched with any other person. However, Kohli is fast getting there.
With 32 hundreds, he’s in striking distance of SRT's One-Day record. Reaching Tendulkar’s 51 Test hundreds might be a bigger challenge, but given Kohli’s form and fitness, who knows what could happen?
One thing is certain: Kohli is on his way to becoming an all-time great and is about to join the super exclusive club of SRT, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, and Virender Sehwag.
Hardik Pandya too has quickly moved up the ladder to become a key player in the shorter format. He bats with the same natural, carefree, fearless, crowd-pleasing style that Kapil Dev once batted with. He also has Paaji's style, swagger, and substance.
Could he be the answer to India's search for an all-rounder?
Hardik has a Test hundred and is absolutely stunning on the field, but to become a quality all-rounder, his bowling must step up. At IPL's next auction, the Gujarat cricketer could shatter past records.
The most lethal death ball bowlers, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar’s value has gone up too. The deadly duo is innovative and creative – clearly mixing slower balls with toe-crushing yorkers.
Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal's rise too has been no less remarkable. Left-arm chinaman bowler Yadav floats up a baffling mix of deliveries that are difficult to pick. The Aussies were clueless about which way the ball was going. The 22-year-old is now considered an attacking option and a wicket taker who asks questions all the time.
The same goes for Chahal, who tests batsmen with his mixed bag of leg breaks, flippers, and googlies.
Neither up nor Down
Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan stay in their respective slots – both are accomplished limited-over experts capable of knocking over bowlers, especially on subcontinent wickets. Sharma is yet to secure his place in Tests and with Murali Vijay set to return, it's likely he will be benched.
Ajinkya Rahane has had time away from international cricket since he wasn’t part of the series against Australia and then New Zealand. He got a hit in Ranji but will look forward to returning to Tests, a format he is most comfortable in.
Cheteshwar Pujara has had a longish stint in domestic cricket where he once again demonstrated his class with another double century, the 12th of his career, overtaking Vijay Merchant.
Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Shreyas Iyer and Dinesh Karthik stay where they are – none of them could use the opportunities that came their way to own the currently unoccupied middle order slot.
Failure to speed up during death overs has led to questions being raised about his place in India’s T20 squad. Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, and Ajit Agarkar have openly suggested that the team needs to look at other options.
It is premature to think of closing his extraordinary career, but MSD is under pressure because the ball is not making the right connections with the bat. In the last few innings, Dhoni has taken time to get started, causing the run-rate to climb alarmingly before he launches his trademark assault at the very end.
Gavaskar and Ganguly have, however, defended Dhoni. Their take: push Dhoni to number 4 to allow him more breathing time. Kohli too hit back at critics for “conveniently" raising questions about his place without understanding how much time he gets to bat.
The world's leading Test bowler lost his place in the shorter format and after indifferent performances in the Ranji Trophy, finds himself in an awkward position where he must assert himself.
Like Ashwin, Ravinder Jadeja is at the crossroads. As a spin all-rounder and a brilliant fielder, he was a permanent part of the ODI and T20 squads. Younger bowlers have, however, taken his place, putting Jadeja on the fringe.
And if Kuldeep gets the nod as the preferred number 2 spinner (after Ashwin), it could get even tougher for Jadeja.
KL Rahul and Karun Nair
Arguably the most complete and decisive batsman after Kohli, KL Rahul is going through a phase where he’s battling injuries and fate as the ball isn't running for him. The upcoming Tests against Sri Lanka will be crucial for him to cement his place in the playing 11.
Karun Nair faces a much tougher future because despite his test triple hundred, he has not found a place in the Indian team since March. Nonetheless, he appears to be on the mend, having scored two centuries in Ranji.
Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina
Harbhajan and Yuvraj have both given Ranji a miss, clearly indicating that the best days of these two champion players are behind them.
However, Raina's case is different – he has worked hard on his fitness but this Ranji season has been very tough on him. Uttar Pradesh has lost three of their four matches and Raina is suffering an embarrassing run-drought with not one 50 in six innings.
The Domestic Stars
Prithvi Shaw: The latest product from Mumbai’s batting factory, Shaw has scored four punishing first class 100s, and he isn’t even 18 yet.
Mayank Agarwal: With a triple 100 in Ranji to his credit, Agarwal seems to be following in the footsteps of Karnataka teammates KL Rahul and Karun Nair.
Prashant Chopra: An aggressive opener from Himachal, Chopra too has scored a triple 100.
Hanuma Vihari: The third triple centurion this season, this Andhra batsman is currently the highest scorer in Ranji with 573 runs.
Anmolpreet Singh: The run hungry under-19 Punjab opener scored a double (267) 100 and a century in 3 games.
Jalaj Saxena: The all-rounder moved from MP to Kerala and is enjoying a dream run this year, having picked-up 29 wickets from four games and hitting 79 and 105 against Rajasthan.
Piyush Chawla: The leggie who shifted from UP to Gujarat is reaping rich rewards. He’s picked up an astonishing 26 wickets from just three games.
Ishank Jaggi: The Jharkhand batsman is in hot form, having scored three 100s in Ranji.
Devendra Bundela: Madhya Pradesh captain, Bundela became the most capped player in Ranji with 142 games. He is also the third-highest run getter in the tournament.
(Amrit Mathur is a senior journalist, former GM of the BCCI and manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He can be reached at @AmritMathur1)
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