At the start of the IPL 2022 Rahul Tripathi was not on the senior national selection committee’s radar for India selection, especially to start with the five-match Twenty20 bilateral series against South Africa be played in the midst of early monsoon at Delhi, Cuttack, Visakhapatnam, Rajkot and Bengaluru.
But the same selection committee with Chetan Sharma in the chair and his colleagues, Sunil Joshi, Harvinder Singh and Debasish Mohanty had placed their faith in Sanju Samson for the Twenty20 series against Sri Lanka.
Both Tripathi and Samson find themselves in the same boat now; they do not figure in the Indian team for the brush against South Africa which has not lost a Twenty20 series in India. Tripathi and Samson must be utterly disappointed.
The IPL is a domestic tournament of the BCCI, and as such performances in the Twenty20 competition with plenty of international flavour has counted a lot in the past and will count a lot in the future. The presence of world-class players, Indian and overseas, has actually helped in the development of a number of players.
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Neil Harvey, a former Australian great and part of the 1948 Australian team that toured England and earned the sobriquet ‘The Invincibles’ told this reporter once that he grew in the famous New South Wales dressing room by keeping his ears wide open and listening to the whispers by giants. Similarly, a majority of the homegrown players in India’s first-class and white-ball competitions have, by their own admission, benefitted a lot by being in the IPL dressing rooms.
The late Shane Warne, after seeing Ravindra Jadeja’s fielding skill alone in the 2008 IPL, predicted that the Saurashtra all-rounder would become a rockstar.
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Raised in the domestic system that is quite tough, Tripathi started with a bang in the IPL season 2017, playing for the Rising Super Giant, formed to fill the void caused by the ejection of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals from the league for two years.
Tripathi pulled out all stops to make 391 runs in 14 matches at a good scoring rate of 8.79. His aggressive brand of cricket with the ability to understand the exigencies of Twenty20 and IPL won him a place in the Rajasthan Royals team in 2018 and 2019.
By his own high standards, his performance for the Jaipur side with the bat was ordinary, delivering dismal totals of 226 in 12 matches and 141 in eight matches. It was much the same for the Kolkata Knight Riders in 2020, making a disappointing 230 in eleven matches, but he made amends in season 14 when half of the tournament was played in the Persian Gulf. He made 397 in 17 matches as the Riders progressed to play the title match.
It has taken Tripathi, possessed with an excellent mind to play correct copybook shots and improvise, six IPL seasons to show his true worth. He has declared that working with Brendon McCullum and Abhishek Nayar at KKR has helped him grow and his results in the last two seasons of the IPL (397 and 413 runs) are proof that the Maharashtra batter is worthy of a place in the India Twenty20 scheme of things at least.
Tripathi is not too old at 31 not to be in contention for an India selection, but this being the year for World Cup in the Twenty20 format (in Australia in October – November), the selection committee is seen to be playing safe. There is sufficient talent, from Virat Kohli, Suryaklumar Yadav, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya — in the middle order that Tripathi is vying for.
Moreover, the committee is clear in its thoughts that the likes of Venkatesh Iyer, Deepak Hooda and Ishan Kishan need to be given more opportunities.
The Indian team is scheduled to play two Twenty20 matches against Ireland in Dublin on June 26 and 28 — a week before India’s deferred fifth Test against England at Edgbaston and there is every likelihood of Tripathi being given a sure shot middle order.
A few more Twenty20 internationals could be planned before the World Cup. There is also the Asia Cup in which players like Tripathi may get opportunities. And also the white ball series in England, of which three are Twenty20 internationals.
The others in this fringe group for the Twenty20 are Samson, Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Rinku Singh, Abhishek Sharma and Tilak Varma.
While the selection committee has thrown open an opportunity to fast bowler Umran Malik because he bowls consistently at a speed in excess of 150 kmph (all in the IPL), they have given the short shrift to Samson.
Before the start of the three-match home series against Sri Lanka that India won 3-0, skipper Rohit Sharma appeared to be a great fan of Samson’s brand of batting, especially with his calling to hit straight and long sixes and saying that he could be an asset for the World Cup in Australia. What has changed now?
The committee has gone for Dinesh Karthik, who made his Twenty20 debut in December 2006. The Tamil Nadu stumper has been recalled after three years. The selection committee has seen merit in his 177 runs at N0. 7 in 14 innings for the Royal Challengers Bangalore at a strike rate of 11.42. Karthik’s selection would not have happened without consent from skipper Sharma and Head Coach Rahul Dravid. Karthik is now a clear front runner for a lower order position, as a pure batter for the World Cup. Pant, Karthik and Pandya could become heavy-duty hitters.
The talent basket for the white ball and in particular, Twenty20, is brimming which is a good sign for Indian cricket. The IPL throws opportunities and it’s up to the players to make the most of it. Tripathi and his ilk have to keep scoring runs and show a little more patience; they may get the big break soon, just as many players got it for the white ball series in Sri Lanka last year when the Indian team was busy in England.
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