Eight months after going unbeaten in the 2018-’19 edition of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy to establish themselves as the undoubted stars in the shortest format in India’s domestic circuit, Karnataka pulled it off again in Surat on Sunday.
Manish Pandey’s team has been an irresistible force in the format (setting a record in the process) and despite Tamil Nadu digging deep and pushing the defending champions all the way, the tournament ultimately witnessed the crowning of deserved champions. With Surat witnessing great crowds at the Lalbhai Contractor Stadium, the Super League stage saw some exciting cricket that showed that India’s domestic cricket is in good health.
Rescheduled in the domestic season so that the tournament offers players the chance to impress scouts of Indian Premier League teams ahead of the auction for the 2020 season, the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 witnessed many proven names re-establish their status as the best India’s got to offer in the format; not just for IPL and the auction on December 19, but also for India’s T20 World Cup campaign.
Here are some key talking points from the tournament that finished on Sunday:
Padikkal, Shaw, Gill: young Indian openers fire
Shubman Gill — 163 runs, 5 innings, HS: 78, Average: 40.75
Prithvi Shaw — 240 runs, 5 innings, HS: 64, Average: 48.00
Devdutt Padikkal — 580 runs, 12 innings, HS: 122*, Average 64.44
The one area where Indian cricket has an embarrassment of riches, as far as both the present and the future goes, is the opening slot in white-ball cricket.
The name that has made the most significant impression in India’s domestic season this year is Devdutt Padikkal. The 19-year-old was the highest-run getter in both Vijay Hazare and Syed Mushtaq Ali trophies and has crossed 1000 runs for the season already. It has not just been his stroke-making that has turned heads, the ability to buckle down under pressure has also stood out as he showed on occasional turning tracks during the two tournaments. RCB’s Director of Cricket Mike Hesson would have loved what he saw from his side’s brightest young talent.
If Padikkal’s stocks soared, Prithvi Shaw returned to competitive cricket from his suspension to do some damage repair to his reputation. In case anyone had forgotten, the Mumbai opener showed why he is still one of the best young talents in the country with aggressive knocks at the top of the order.
But just as it was in the Under-19 World Cup, Shaw was, ultimately, a tad overshadowed by Shubman Gill on a night Mumbai had to win by a big margin against Punjab. It was an innings that you had to watch live to fully appreciate Gill’s stroke-making skills. It was, in a word, delightful.
The trio might not just be in the scheme of things for India in white-ball formats at this moment but the time is not far away when at least two out of the three will form the core of the country’s batting order.
Treat KL Rahul as India’s best T20 opener
There really should not be any debate about this now: we have seen it in the Indian Premier League, we have seen it in India colours (albeit not as frequently as we should have) and now we have seen it for Karnataka. KL Rahul is India’s best opening batsman in the shortest format. In fact, there is a case to be made for him being the best batsman in T20s in the country, period.
There is no one else in the Indian team who has the range of shots against pace in the powerplay and he is no mug against the spinners either. The innings against Haryana in the semi-final summed up everything that is special about Rahul: the flicked six into the car park and an inside out cover drive for six were, arguably, the two shots of the tournament.
In this tournament (313 runs in 8 innings at an average of 52.16 and SR of 155.72), he was perhaps overshadowed by Padikkal and his incredible consistency, but as a wicketkeeper-batsman Rahul delivered both in front of and behind the wickets.
The Indian management has been guilty of not differentiating between formats when it comes to batting form. Rahul’s below-par Test and One-Day International returns should never have mattered and he should be playing in T20Is irrespective of who else is in the squad.
Washington Sundar’s batting
Virat Kohli had said before India’s T20I assignments at home this season that he would look at having bowlers who can also bat lower down the order. The consequence of that was Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal finding themselves out of the squad as Krunal Pandya and Washington Sundar were given a run. And now, ahead of India’s last few matches of 2019, the wrist-spin duo are back in the squad while Pandya is no longer in the scheme of things.
But Washington has followed up his economical spells during the India outings, with impressive batting displays for Tamil Nadu. In M Vijay’s absence, there was a dearth of quality at the top of the order for TN and Washington found himself promoted consistently up the order, before finishing the tournament at No 3. With a series of match-winning displays with the bat, Washington has sent a reminder to the Indian captain for upcoming international series as well as the IPL that he is, in fact, a three-dimensional cricketer.
Pant, Dhawan miss out
Shikhar Dhawan: 0, 9, 19, 35, 24
Rishabh Pant: 28, 30
Delhi, on paper, have a strong T20 side but their performances in the tournament left a lot to be desired. They should have been delighted that they had the services of Dhawan but he played five matches for a total of 87 runs and then injured himself, getting ruled out of the upcoming West Indies series. And having been released before the end of the Bangladesh Test series, Pant’s brief stint as an opener did not quite work out either. On both occasions, the left-hander got off to good starts on tricky pitches but lost a few partners and then, when the pressure increased, suffered soft dismissals. Both players are under scrutiny when they turn up in India colours and, unlike Rahul, did not find solace in domestic cricket.
Seam bowling all-rounders: a problem area
In Hardik Pandya’s absence from competitive cricket, the seam-bowling all-rounder slot is one where India are looking for options. Clearly, that’s a very important position in the team with the T20 World Cup being played in Australia.
Of course, there is plenty of time for Hardik to make a full recovery and claim his spot back but his injury concerns are not new and it is only logical that India have a few options up their sleeve.
Shivam Dube’s power-hitting skills have earned him the spot in India’s squad now and he did well with the ball in the series decider against Bangladesh to hold on to it. Coming back to SMAT, he did not have the best of times with bat (scores of 4, 0, 0, 1, 23, 22*, 2*) but impressed with his wicket-taking skills. Still, it was not the greatest of tournaments for him and Mumbai were knocked out in the group stage from a tough group.
Vijay Shankar, who seems to have lost the confidence of the selectors, impressed in the semi-final against Rajasthan with the ball and almost took his side past the finish line in the final with the bat. But apart from the knockouts, he was not at his best in the tournament, perhaps because he was sparsely used by TN with both the bat and ball. He batted a position or two lower than he should have and on tracks that aided spin, did not bowl his full quota in most matches.
The one player who did impress was Haryana’s Harshal Patel. He is the only player to feature in the top five of both leading run-scorers and wicket-takers in the tournament (374 runs, 19 wickets). His performances were one of the reasons behind Haryana’s run to the semi-finals.
Special mention to Deepak Chahar too, who picked up three wickets in an over twice in the tournament after his hat-trick heroics against Bangladesh. He is known to be a good batting talent as well and he got to show off those skills for Rajasthan with a match-winning half-century (where he hit seven sixes) against Delhi that took his team to the semi-finals.
Sai Kishore, Siddharth - two TN spinners impress
It is no surprise that Tamil Nadu did well in the tournament once the pitches started taking spin. The depth of their slow-bowling attack is perhaps unparalleled in the domestic circuit at the moment. And the two names that stood out were R Sai Kishore and M Siddharth. The latter made his bow at the later stages of the tournament and impressed straightaway, finishing with the second best strike rate of the tournament for bowlers who bowled at least 10 overs (12 wickets in 18 overs). Sai Kishore, on the other hand, was the leading wicket-taker of the tournament (20 wickets at an average of 10.40 and economy of 4.63). Both left-arm spinners have the advantage of being tall and have actions that help them extract extra bounce from the pitch; skills that could come in handy in the IPL if sides are looking for efficient spin options.
Suryakumar Yadav on the brink of a breakthrough
When you saw Surayakumar bat for Mumbai in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, one thing was plain obvious: confidence was in no short supply.
The numbers speak for themselves: 10 innings, 392 runs, average: 56.00, strike rate: 168.96.
But more than all that, the authority with which Suryakumar started his innings and the ability to pick up the scoring rate at will stood out. The innings against Punjab in the Super League encounter where he slammed 80 off 35 balls and the 53-ball 94* against eventual champions Karnataka both showcased why he is such a dangerous batsman in the middle order when he gets his eye in.
“I always feel some things in life are not in our hands. If you think only about ‘I have to play for India’, it puts unnecessary pressure on yourself,” he was quoted as saying by ESPNCricinfo. “Of course, I have been thinking that I’m not there in that circle still. But I strongly feel that the time is around the corner and I’m going to push the door this year.”
It won’t be an exaggeration to say he is one good IPL season away from making the selectors pick in India’s T20I squad.