Now in its 9th edition, the biggest T20 league in world cricket has seen enough seasons for us to chalk out clear ‘bests’ and ‘worsts’ in its life. In fact, it now has a ‘history’ too – how many of you remember that Manish Pandey was the first Indian batsman to score a league century in its second edition in South Africa, or that Chris Gayle had gone unsold after a stuttering first season for the Kolkata Knight Riders? Or that little-known Paul Valthaty captured world imaginations by scoring a century and then taking four wickets for the Kings XI Punjab before disappearing into oblivion? Or that Goan dynamite opener Swapnil Asnodkar was one of the stars of the Rajasthan Royals’ ‘Moneyball’ opening winning season? Or that Sachin Tendulkar won the Orange Cap, and was always in the running for it – the only century he scored was in a losing cause against the Kings XI Punjab. Or that the Royal Challengers Bangalore started 2008 with a ‘Test squad’ – with Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Jacques Kallis, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and even Wasim Jaffer (yes!) in the squad. These facts seem like decades ago, though some of the “old-timers” are still around – Inaugural league Orange cap winner Shaun Marsh still plays for the same team, and Shane Watson was playing for the Royals till they were banned this season.
However, five Indian batsmen have stood out in this league over the years. Most of them, not surprisingly, have opened the batting – and have left their signature on a league peppered with overseas superstars like Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum and AB de Villiers. They’ve been far more consistent than their foreign counterparts – and they have the stats to show it. Here we go:
5. Virat Kohli
He was an U-19 superstar and teenager when he was picked by the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the first season. I still remember how he had lofted Mumbai Indians’ Harbhajan Singh into the stands at Brabourne Stadium. Nobody had predicted, though, that he would scale the heights he has. One of the “loyal” stars of the league, Kohli has stuck on with RCB – despite never winning the title with them. For the first few seasons, he struggled to find consistency, but over the last three years, he has risen and found a way to score in this format by being conventional. Kohli the Indian batsman is superior to Kohli the T20 league batsman, but slowly, they’re converging – as demonstrated from the beginning of this year’s edition. He now opens the batting and leads the team, and is in “machine” mode, scoring a 50 almost every innings. He is yet to get a big one though. He lies fourth in the run-count in its history, with 3291 runs at an average of 33.5
4. Ajinkya Rahane
You’d imagine he was cut out for Test cricket, but Rahane was among the first Indian batsmen to prove that technique and timing go a long way in achieving success even in this Wham-Bam league. He stood out almost every season for the Rajasthan Royals, scoring big runs at the top of the order with his silken touches and surprisingly quick hands. He is, in a way, India’s Mahela Jayawardene in T20 cricket, and has seen his stocks rise for the national squad, too, because of his performance as an opener here. Recently, he replaced Shikhar Dhawan in the World T20 semifinal, and is now looking to build upon that by playing a match-winning knock against the Mumbai Indians in the first game for his new team, Rising Pune Superwarriors. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to captain MS Dhoni, after playing under guys like Watson, Rahul Dravid and Shane Warne over the years.
He has scored far lesser than his other Indian counterparts, because he peaked only after being played regularly (84 games compared to others’ 120-odd games), but is central to his teams’ fortunes. With 2291 runs at 34, he is no Test mug with the bat.
3. Suresh Raina
The only league player to have played ALL the games ever since its inception, Raina is the embodiment of commitment and league expertise. His team Chennai Super Kings had played 132 games before being suspended for this year, and he had played all of them. Now, he is captain of the Gujarat Lions, and has had a rollicking start to his leadership career with three wins out of three. Finally, he is his own man, but over the last few seasons, he has become lesser of a batsman. But such was his dominance and consistency till 2013 that he is still the highest-scoring Indian here – with 3770 runs at 34 and an astonishing strike-rate of 140. Who can forget his glory days when he whacked 90-odd of 26 balls against the Kings XI a few years ago in a crucial game, and his slogs over mid-wicket to get him his first and only century back when centuries weren’t as common? His part-time spin, too, has played a major part in elevating CSK to the top time and again. Here’s hoping he returns to form with the bat and leads the Lions to a successful debut in the league.
2. Gautam Gambhir
Two seasons ago, when Gambhir was freshly dropped from the national team, the man couldn’t buy a run when the league started. He began with three ducks, and two more single-figure scores, with KKR suffering as a result. But under Gambhir, over the years, KKR became one of the top three teams in its history – winning two titles against the run of play, after he played for the Daredevils in his initial years. He has thrived as an aggressive captain (even almost came to blows with Kohli two years ago) and has shrugged off bad form by scoring the maximum number of half centuries – 28. He is also the Orange Cap holder this year already, has changed his stance and been in superb form opening with Robin Uthappa. The new bat-through-the-innings Gambhir is an improved one, and his calm seems to rub off on his predominantly Indian batting lineup. My bet is on KKR to win the league this year, and though it’s not because of their captain’s “power-hitting”, it will be because of his bloody-minded grit and consistency at the crease. He is their new Kallis. 3359 runs at 31 (despite 11 ducks) proves that he is on the up again.
1. Rohit Sharma
The only Indian “impact” batsman in here, Rohit started his league career with the Deccan Chargers, won a league with them by stunning everyone with some middle-order hitting, and then moved on to captain Mumbai Indians after Sachin Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh and Ricky Ponting. His strokeplay has been the reason they’ve won two titles and two Champions League titles as well, and also the reason so many “Rohit needs to mistake Indian jersey for league jersey” jokes. He may have blown hot and cold internationally, but he is still India’s biggest batting star in the league – despite his team’s weak starts and off-balance batting order over the last two years. He is most dangerous at Eden Gardens, where he got his only league century three years ago on a turning wicket against a Narine-led KKR. This year, too, he dragged MI to victory on the same ground with a match-winning 80 while chasing, and has demoted himself back to number four to provide stability to a power-packed, misfiring middle order. With almost 3500 runs at 33, he could overtake Raina this year considering both their formbooks and Raina’s extra responsibilities.