From a point in time when the selectors said that IPL performances were not the criteria for picking India squads to now, where a good IPL almost invariably leads to an India call-up – cricket has changed in a big way.

Almost every new season of the IPL gives hopes to hundreds of youngsters who may have somehow passed through the filter during the Ranji season. Then again, it is an opportunity not just for the youngsters but also for the established stars to once again show what they are all about.

This season was no different and here’s a look at the top talking points (from an Indian perspective) that emerged during IPL 2018:

Karthik vs Saha

Karthik had a wonderful IPL. BCCI/Sportzpics
Karthik had a wonderful IPL. BCCI/Sportzpics

There is talk that Wriddhiman Saha is set to miss the one-off Test against Afghanistan after suffering a broken thumb during the Indian Premier League. He didn’t have the greatest IPL either – 11 matches, 122 runs at an average of 15.25. A hamstring injury forced him to return home midway from the tour in SA. It’s been that kind of a season so far for the 33-year-old.

And now, despite his brilliant keeping in Tests, he might face a challenge from Dinesh Karthik. The Tamil Nadu star, who captained Kolkata Knight Riders in the just-concluded IPL, had a brilliant tournament (16 matches, 498 runs, avg 49.80). He almost single-handedly won India the Nidahas Trophy with a superb knock in the final. And while everything seems to be going wrong for Saha, it all seems to be coming together for Karthik.

He is considered by the selectors and the team management to be a good enough batsman to play in the XI as a pure batsman alone in white-ball cricket, as their squad for the tour of England shows. And ahead of the Tests – India might give some serious consideration to who among Karthik or Saha is the better fit for the Test team.

Even lower down the order, Karthik will give India some serious firepower and he is a regular wicketkeeper. Saha’s keeping is flawless but is his overall package good enough to keep Karthik out? For now, that should be enough to keep both men on their toes.

The Chahar question

Deepak Chahar’s first-class record is pretty ordinary – 40 matches, 113 wickets at an average of 36.44. To most observers, before he made his mark for CSK in IPL 2018, he was best remembered for claiming 8 for 10 on his Ranji Trophy debut when he was just 18. The conditions were helpful but he exploited them to their fullest. But that was seven years back and now under the guidance of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, he blossomed.

CSK, of course, used him in a very specific way. He can swing the ball and Dhoni would mostly bowl him out in the early going. But with the new ball, he conjured up memories of a younger Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Early on, Bhuvneshwar was also mainly used with the new ball. Once the ball got older, he was in trouble. For Chahar to make the international cut, he too will need to work on his old ball skills.

“He has been developing over the last two years. He had a very good domestic season. His skill set was something we were very impressed with since the first day. He is actually a handy batsman as well. We think he is a fine cricketer,” Fleming said during the tournament.

“The fact that he swings the ball is important. Lots of trends in the game, obviously wrist spinners and swinging the ball are very effective at the moment. And he does that and he does it at good pace too. At the moment he’s around 140 kph, 143 tops. He’s gone really well. He has got to find and maintain consistency and that will come with experience,” he said.

Does it perhaps make sense to put him in the England Test squad (as a reserve) to be a back-up for a Bhuvneshwar, who is India’s only out and out swing bowler? He could learn the ropes and given what Bhuvneshwar has gone through, there could be no better teacher.

The finger spinner

Krunal Pandya has once again had a solid IPL season. BCCI/Sportzpics
Krunal Pandya has once again had a solid IPL season. BCCI/Sportzpics

The competition for the finger spinner’s slot just got tougher. For the longest time, Ravindra Jadeja was a shoe-in for the spot but a drop in form saw him being dropped in favour of Axar Patel and Washington Sundar. But even though he started bowling only in the later stages of the tournament, Jadeja showed that he has rediscovered his mojo. He was quick, he was accurate and his fielding remains spectacular (except for that one remarkable night at the Eden Gardens.)

For the moment, though, he faces tough competition from Krunal Pandya. The older of the Pandya brothers has shown himself to be a smart cricketer, a player who uses his cricketing brain to great effect on the field. Something that Jadeja has perhaps been guilty of not doing often enough.

Pandya’s bowling was brave (if that is one way to describe it). He wasn’t afraid to toss the ball up and beat the batsmen in flight. He would look to challenge the batsmen in his own way and the fact that he often came out on top shows how he continues to grow as a bowler.

If anything, Jadeja will need to find a way to counter Pandya and Sundar’s batting prowess if he wants to get back in national reckoning before the World Cup. May the best man win!

All about confidence

There were times on the South African tour when KL Rahul looked lost. He would neither be full forward, nor would he be fully back and sometimes, he would give it away after grinding it out for the best part of the first session. It seemed a bit like his career. While the talent was obvious, it was the mental make-up that needed to change.

And sometimes for that to happen, you need to find a way to break the mould. Given the manner in which he batted for KXIP, he might just have done that. His timing was spot-on, his unorthodoxy (when needed) took bowlers by surprise and most importantly, the responsibility didn’t seem to weigh him down. He scored almost 300 runs more than the second-highest run-getter in his team and those numbers show how he almost single-handedly carried his team to the Qualifiers.

More importantly, sportsmen are creatures of confidence. We have seen many cricketers rediscover their form and confidence in the IPL and then continue in the same vein in international cricket too. India will hope Rahul can do the same.

The thoughtful madness of Pant

Last year, Pant seemed to live by a simple motto: “jyada socho mat, bas maro (don’t think too much, just hit).” It seemed good enough to help him make an impact in the IPL and find a way into the India team. But bowlers at the international level are that little bit shrewder. His 4 T20Is (admittedly not enough to judge a cricketer of any standard) have seen ordinary returns and his strike-rate in these matches has averaged just 105.79.

IPL 2018, though, saw Pant making progress is more ways than one. For starters, the jyada socho mat motto had given way to a more thoughtful kind of hitting. He is taking his time, having a look at the bowling before giving full vein to his manic hitting, as he was very quick to point out to Sanjay Manjrekar in the post-final presentation ceremony. 684 runs at a strike-rate of 173.60 show that there is little that can stop him once he gets going.

He is still not the finished article but he has his template right now. If he continues to build on his technique – batting and wicket-keeping – there will be little to stop him from making his mark on the international cricketer scene either. All this and he is still just 20.

Kaul shows promise

Oddly enough for Kaul, this was a mixed bag of a tournament – he thoroughly deserved his India call-up for the upcoming UK tour for his performances in the early part of the tournament, but since then, his numbers dropped. Figures of 0/48, 0/40, 2/44. 2/26, 2/32, 2/32, 0/43 in his last six matches puts a dampener on what was otherwise an IPL to remember for him.

The manner in which he was bowling at the death early on was a sign of wonderful maturity. When something like a Shane Watson special happens, there was little anyone could do and the Indian speedster found that out in the final. In the face of that barrage, he seemed to lose his wits and how he emerges from this hammering will go a long way towards determining where his career will end up.

Kaul always had good pace but he just lacked the consistency to trouble top-class batsmen. Still his 21 wickets this season are the best by an Indian and that should count for something. Umesh Yadav was very good too but Kaul found a higher gear this season and that is something he should be proud of.