Jaiswal a real three-format deal; Rinku Singh cut out for Indian T20I ascent
When Shubman Gill stands tall on a short of good length ball from Mohammad Siraj and almost jabs it for a six towards deep mid-wicket region, on his way to producing a second IPL 2023 hundred and uplifting his tally to 680 runs for Gujarat Titans (GT) amidst an incredible all-format run, it begs belief there was a time he wasn't rated to be the brightest young Indian talent in the wing.
That rich pedestal was offered back in time to his U-19 teammate Prithvi Shaw, on whom the whole of the esteemed Mumbai cricket gharana with their Khadoos batting culture was convinced, he is the real 'next big thing' of Indian cricket. A childhood prodigy of unmatched promise. The hyped.
A popular and prolific run-maker in school cricket and club level game with humble beginnings, Shaw's rise into prominence during the junior World Cup in 2018 in New Zealand took few by surprise. Even less so, how he blazed it away against attacks of his age in the biannual ICC event.
Watching that tournament as an Indian cricket fan you felt reassured of the country's batting riches. Both Shaw and Gill would go on to dominate oppositions throughout and vindicate the quality of the U-19 setup under Rahul Dravid's umbrella.
Amidst the fanfare of their rise, however, one cricket expert made it a point to put the two batters' technique through an eye-test. New Zealand's veteran commentator Simon Doull, who was there when Gill and Shaw were hammering attacks during the junior World Cup, raised alarm bells on Shaw's technique.
Doull spotted the right-hander moving his back leg outside the leg stump every time he would face upto the bowler while his downswing would invariably fall from the gully region, leaving him vulnerable to both the short balls and the ones jagging in or out from closer to the off-stump.
"For all the hype on Prithvi Shaw, I felt he's no patch on Shubman Gill." As true those remarks hold for most, if not all, young talents in world cricket right now, Doull's statement back in time raised eyebrows as not many were yet willing to accept chinks in Shaw's armoury.
Fast-forward life, and the difference between the technique and overall range of the two players has given them extreme paths on the success scale. While Shaw stands axed from all formats by India and endures a persistent drought of runs in the IPL, Gill relishes a place of incumbency in Tests, ODIs and T20Is and is now acing the premier T20 league for the Titans.
It isn't that Gill doesn't have chinks to his game. The youngster can and must tighten up his frontfoot strides and defence against the moving ball. But here's the thing: that's just about it for the major boxes he needs to tick to be able to fulfil the all-conquering force everyone envisions about him.
With Shaw, over time, multiple issues have laid themselves bare to be discussed and exploited by top-level oppositions. His last six Test match dismissals, for example: two on the outside edge, two on the inside and two off the upper body. If it isn't too short or too wide, and not coming in straight alignments, including versus spin, Shaw struggles with his perenially vulnerable technique.
In essence, the technical aspect of every young player's game reveals an unspoken backstory to his journey. When Gill is in the middle, it couldn't be more abundantly clear he has practised the short-ball thousands of times in his growing-up years. Gill plays domestically for Punjab, a region traditionally known for greater pace and bounce within the Indian cricket ecosystem. In turn, his frontfoot game hasn't attained similar excellence.
Along the same lines, Shaw has come across to be an example of a young cricketer whose technical acumen has been compromised at the grassroots level for prolific run-scoring against shallow attacks. As supportive as Mumbai's experienced coaches maybe, it's clear that the aggressive right-hander hasn't been made to focus enough on his defensive game in his critical development years.
His technique withstands supreme against domestic bowling units with multiple gaps in depth and quality, offering a boundary ball each over, but wilts under sustained pressure and incisiveness that international teams are boastful of.
As much as the philosophers of the game try to denounce this by insisting that mental aptitude can make up for technical shortcomings, technique and the base is often the most important determinant of a player's future.
Perceptions carried forward are dispelled at this reality point in our sport. You could have a KL Rahul bursting onto the scene as a technically sorted young batter, problems developed to a game marred by limited-overs cricket are ultimately exposed. Rahul's now a Test opener with a pace average of 29.87 over 78 innings and lasts just about seven-and-a-half overs per dismissal. No amount of mental strength would come to his saving.
Why, despite his zeal and temperament, Shreyas Iyer finds it tough to stay relevant the moment the ball jumps up and moves outside the off-stump. Why, over time, with major growth in his base versus seam, Ruturaj Gaikwad has leapfrogged Prithvi Shaw in the reckoning.
Gaikwad, always a nimble-footed and precise batter against spin with a range to blaze away consistently, has been able to plug the pace gap in his game this summer for CSK. Of his tally of 504 runs in 13 innings of IPL 2023, 302 have been made against all quicks at a strike-rate of 139.81 while averaging 75.50. The 25-year-old had gone at just 126.46 while clocking his runs at 26.28 apiece versus seam even last summer.
For what would be encouraging and inspirational for Shaw, and Ishan Kishan, another young cricketer tamed by multiple technical loopholes, Gaikwad's a case of a player working extensively hard to attain a pace-spin equilibrium and managing to ultimately iron out his flaws.
Invest in Jaiswal, Rinku from the young lot
There are some, though, who don't have to rebuild the canvas to paint a beautiful picture with the bat. Rajasthan Royals (RR) young opener Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shaw's Mumbai teammate, has always been a prodigious young talent himself, with a solid base and technique against all kinds of bowling. From the moment he stood tall on the bowling in the 2020 edition of the junior World Cup, the left-hander has inspired calls on his Test match future.
To bridge gaps to that aim, Jaiswal has attained an impregnable figure for Ranji Trophy attacks and conquered India 'A' assignments that he has been part of. But it's the IPL 2023 where the 21-year-old has truly transcended into an all-format prospect, emerging as a consistent blazer for the Royals by blasting a whopping 625 runs at 148.73.
The thin-sized batter, who struggled to retain a high-end strike-rate last two seasons without compromising on his average, managed to ace the two fronts this time and excelled to incredible levels to bolster his claims for higher honours in an in-transition senior Indian side.
To achieve the ultimate prize - the India cap - young batters have no choice but to uplift their game to such esteemed standards. The competition for spots is such that even the successful ones are filtered out, and only the most excellent get to stay in the fray. The IPL enables this filter quite reasonably, putting youngsters on the spot and demanding that they relish the strenuous grind to get noticed.
If all Rinku Singh did was to play a feather-bed comforting role for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), chances are high he would've only entered the race of hopefuls and not emerge, as he has, a potential invaluable middle-order asset to enrich India's T20I side.
Neither his quiet demeanour nor his modest contracts would get people ticking on the outside. So to get noticed, Rinku had to do the extraordinary and leave big imprints on games for the two-time champions. After a brief flirtation with his role last season, he exercised his influence as a full-blown aggressor down the order. Walking into multiple positions of strife, the 25-year-old UP batter managed to lead KKR's recovery and nearly propel them past the finish line each time.
The unbeaten 67 off 33 in KKR's season-ending loss by a run to Lucknow summed up Rinku's season, for it was him and him alone who kept the vulnerable Kolkata side alive in the contest while others, including some huge names, simply melted under pressure. Playing the lone warrior in a defeated unit is often the hardest thing, Rinku did it throughout the season to finish with 474 runs at 150.
The only chink in the batter's game is his weaker spin-handling abilities, off which he could progress at a measly 6.72 an over even in his breakthrough season, belting pace at an eye-catching 10.57. Jaiswal went at 10.16 an over himself against pace and smashed spin for 8.42 per piece, exhibiting greater equality in his range against both modes of operation. But Rinku's role required him to cut off risks in the middle and keep his instincts in check until the fag end of the innings where he faced pace.
Either way, the IPL maybe drowning in the quality of opposition attacks since its expansion, but these are young turks whom the selectors and the management can wholeheartedly back alongside the ever-improving Gaikwad, for they have the range and the technical base sorted to handle the rigours of the top-level game. If Jaiswal is your three-format prodigy, Rinku looks cut out for the T20I set-up. Invest in them.