Watching the IPL from home, I realised I had indeed been thrown that opportunity again. In a whirl of hotels, airports, programmes and deadlines, you rarely get time to merely gaze at something; to look at things without seeking to draw an immediate connect. And so I watched Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers bat together and I realised how much I actually enjoyed it. These are two tough competitors and whatever they might say about each other, and it is nice to see such grace, one wants to be better than the other. But they played their own way, they didn’t seek to outdo each other, AB played at his strike rate, Kohli at his. Within that competition and togetherness, each played in the style that defined him, each remained the player he was.
Over the next six weeks, I am hoping to similarly observe players and two come to mind straightaway. One is Muztafizur Rahman from Bangladesh who has it within him to become another Malinga who, this year, will be missed not just by the Mumbai Indians but by the IPL itself. He has been one of its pillars. For the first time, Muztafizur is going out of the shelter his culture and his team-mates have afforded him. There will be no one to speak his language, his hefty price tag will put pressure on him and the fact that he is already a 4-over bank for his side means his performance will be scrutinised more than that of any other bowler. He could emerge out of this IPL as a major star or he could be affected by attention and expectation. Watch him closely.
Just as fascinating will be Sunil Narine. He is a quiet man and he has endured a lot in recent times. He has been faced with the prospect of never playing cricket again and has now to live with the reality of not seeing his father. He must emerge out of both, for a player has insecurities and worries like everyone else, and show the world that with his newly accepted action, he can still be the most effective bowler of his genre. KKR have been magnificent with him, with their purse and their affection, but believe it or not, there is also the pressure of repaying kindness.
Batsmen, like predators, will be aware of that too and it will be fascinating to see how they tackle him. Watch Narine closely. I will also watch a few youngsters carefully. They are all talented, wonderful to see, but some have been offered opportunity greater than others have. Watch for Hardik Pandya and Pavan Negi who, from being bit players for one team have to play the lead role for their franchise. Negi is on a huge contract, the kind of money he couldn’t have dreamt of, and while that is wonderful for him, he will have to start believing that he is a key player for his team. It can be a challenging transition. Shreyas Iyer is in season two. The last two years have been fantastic and he will be aware that he is a few performances away from being considered good enough to play for India. Manan Vohra was a thrilling player a couple of years ago but with Sehwag’s retirement, has the opportunity to play a whole season. Sanju Samson has been much appreciated but the runs haven’t quite flowed for him and he is in a team that has another wicketkeeper in Quinton de Kock. Axar Patel was in the World Cup team fourteen months ago and since then others of his kind have crept up. Different situations, different stresses but they must cope and deliver for that is what sport demands. As it will of Gautam Gambhir. The India door is less ajar than it was but the KKR door still offers so much. How will the Pathan brothers cope this year, for example?