Umran Malik, 21-year-old son of a vegetable vendor from Jammu, has been the toast of the IPL last week. The strapping, muscular fast bowler who was drafted into the Sunrisers Hyderabad side at short notice after regular T Natarajan tested positive for Covid has thrice topped 150 kmph in the two matches he’s played, including one delivery hurled at 152kmph in Wednesday’s victory over Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Malik has only one wicket to show from two matches but has created a huge buzz on the circuit to hit 150 or thereabouts consistently on a length which has had seasoned batsmen hopping. RCB skipper Virat Kohli and his own captain Kane Williamson were impressed by Malik’s raw pace and potential.
Williamson called him a ‘special talent’. Kohli spoke of how any fast bowler who hits the 150 kmph often enough will immediately draw notice but added that how he fares from here is important.
“Every season the IPL throws up talented youngsters, and it is important to understand the progress of such individuals from thereon,” he said.
Like most young cricketers, Umran played street/gully cricket in his hometown. His parents weren’t too happy, concerned that he might be led astray by staying out all the time. But Umran soon made a mark in tennis ball cricket where his pace and control won him attention. His parents relented and he was soon drafted into more serious stuff and playing at a higher level.
Malik’s experience is meagre. He’s played just one List A match and three T20 games, two of them last week in the IPL – all coming in this year. Which is why he has aroused so much interest in aficionados, experts and fellow players. For a rookie to show so much maturity is unusual, unexpected and holds out rich promise for the future.
Jammu & Kashmir stalwart Parvez Rasool, who has been an India player, as well as Irfan Pathan, who coached the state for two seasons, both believe Umran has the talent to make it to the highest level. They says he is a committed, ambitious youngster who could be an asset if groomed properly.
Malik is not the only debutant to catch the eye in the second phase of IPL2021. Left-handed opener Venkatesh Iyer, representing Kolkata Knight Riders, started making waves as soon as the tournament resume, and barring a blip or two, has gone from strength to strength, along the way showing that he possesses multiple skills.
Venkatesh Iyer - from survivor to game-changer
Iyer ranks 29th among run getters this season, scoring 201 runs. But he’s played only 6 matches remember, unlike most others above him who’ve played 10 or more. Iyer averages 40-plus and has a strike rate of 134, both hugely impressive, and has given KKR flying starts in almost every game he’s played.
His uninhibited approach, backed by a good eye and reflexes, have made Iyer a difficult batsman to contain since he was inducted into the team. Equally adept at strokes with horizontal or vertical bat, he’s been flamboyant but also clever in picking his shots.
One of the main factors in KKR’s resurgence in the second phase, is the opening partnership between Iyer and young Shubman Gill, which has ensured that the team’s bowlers have defendable totals most times. Iyer’s also shown good skills with the ball, bowling meadium pace seam up and swing with fine control, so much so that Eoin Morgan has even trusted him in death overs.
Unlike Malik, Iyer is not a rookie. He’s 26 years old and made his debut for Madhya Pradesh way back in 2015. Bright at studies, he’s grappled with the dilemma whether it should be cricket or academics for him, but love for the sport exceeded all else.
For the past seven years he’s just about been afloat, but last season he made a big impact in the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament, top scoring for his side, and then followed up with an impressive showing in the Vijay Merchant Trophy scoring 198 off just 148 deliveries.
By this time KKR, who had him in the squad, were waking up to Iyer’s potential seeing him also bat against the likes of the Pat Cummins, Prasidha Krishna, Lockie Ferguson and others. He didn’t get a match in the first phase. The team’s struggles at the top of the order necessitated changes, and Iyer was slotted as opener when the second phase began.
The journey since has been rewarding – for him personally and KKR – and has also provoked speculation whether he is India material. I might be too early to go that far for someone still in his debut season, but with clearly he will be watched very closely from here. As indeed would Umran Malik.
Other bright stars of IPL 2021
Apart from these debutants, there are other players who haven’t worn the India cap, but are showing the talent to vie for places with those in the Indian team. Ruturaj Gaikwad, CSK’s opener has struck a purple patch this season and will surely be on the radar of the selectors. He’s stylish, aggressive and consistent, which makes for excellent credentials.
Among bowlers, Avesh Khan – who was in the reserves on the tour of England before he got injured and had to return home – has been a major force for Delhi Capitals with his hot pace and sharp skills. He has formed a destructive pace troika with Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje. Khan is the second highest wicket-taker this season behind Harshal Patel.
Patel, at 30 near veteran on the domestic circuit, has been outstanding for RCB. Not quick like Khan or Malik, his control’s immaculate and variations clever and skillful. In death overs, he’s been simply superb. Two Punjab bowlers, Arshdeep Singh (pace) and Ravi Bishnoi (leg spin) have been hugely impressive this season too, much as they were in IPL 2020.
With such a plethora of in-form talent available, whether selectors be tempted to make changes in the T20 World Cup squad – the cut-off date for this is October 10 – is moot. Even if they do, there are back-up players already named, so those mentioned here may not be in the running at all.
But changes in T20 teams can be frequent. There are bilateral T20 matches coming up for India after the T20 World Cup, and in fact the next edition of the ICC tournament is just a year away, scheduled for 2022. One reckons that competition for places will become even more intense.