The Indian Premier League has become the pre-eminent T20 tournament in the world today, with every edition seeing new stars of the future being born through their fearless performances for their franchises. Strong performances in the IPL have always given a huge boost to players’ chances of representing their countries, especially Indian players, and we saw this play out as recently as the previous edition of the tournament, which was held just five months ago in the UAE. The likes of Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, T Natarajan, Varun Chakravarthy and Rahul Tewatia gained maiden call-ups to the Indian white-ball sides on the back of their performances in last year’s tournament, and in the case of Yadav, Kishan and Natarajan, they took those chances with both hands. This has been true throughout the IPL’s existence, and so we can expect some more uncapped and unknown players to be catapulted into the spotlight through this year’s edition as well. Here are our picks for some of these players to keep an eye on in this season’s tournament, based on their form and performances in the Vijay Hazare and Syed Mushtaq Ali tournaments earlier this year.
For those who may not be aware, these are the two premier white-ball domestic tournaments in India, which are held in the early part of the year to allow players to make a case for themselves ahead of the IPL auctions. The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy is the 20-over tournament, while the Vijay Hazare Trophy is the 50-over one.
Thus, you will probably see some names you may recognize as having been picked up by IPL franchises in this year’s auction as well, but the basis of those picks is the performance in these two white-ball tournaments.
Shahrukh Khan, 25, Punjab Kings
This 25-year-old native of Tamil Nadu, who shares his name with arguably the biggest movie star in India, who is also the owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders franchise, was the subject of a fierce bidding war in the 2021 auction, finally being snapped up by the Punjab Kings for Rs 5.25 crore (approx. $719,000). He has long been touted as a prodigy in local and state cricket circles, but it was this year that his talent finally caught the attention of IPL scouts, as he was a key part of the Tamil Nadu side that won the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (SMAT) in January this year. It is interesting that in an age where most talented batsmen around the world prefer to bat in the top four, Khan actively prefers to bat lower down the order and act as a finisher. This talent came to the fore in the quarter-final against Himachal Pradesh, where he smashed 40 runs off just 19 balls, with his side in trouble at 66/5, chasing 136, to see them safely over the line. He is extremely strong against pace, and that should stand him in good stead in the IPL where he is bound to come up against top-class bowlers at the death. Khan is likely to start for Punjab, for whom he has reportedly been impressing in the nets, and he will definitely be one of the players to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
N Jagadeesan, 25, Chennai Super Kings
Another Tamil Nadu native, Jagadeesan was another crucial cog of the side that won the SMAT, opening the batting and top-scoring in the tournament with 364 runs in eight innings, at a monstrous average of 72.80 and a strike rate of 141.08. He had four successive 50+ scores in the tournament at one point, and carried on where he left off in the 50-over tournament as well, where he scored 101 in Tamil Nadu’s first game against Punjab. Jagadeesan has been part of the CSK setup since 2018, and he has spent some part of his career floating around the top and middle order for Tamil Nadu as well as opening the innings, which could be a useful option for the franchise should they turn to him. CSK do need to figure out their second opener to partner Faf du Plessis, and on current form, Jagadeesan could definitely be the answer for them.
Sheldon Jackson, 34, Kolkata Knight Riders
Jackson has been around the domestic circuit for a while now, but it was his performance in the SMAT for Puducherry that made KKR sit up and take notice, and pick him up in this year’s auction for Rs 20 lakh (approx. $27,000), where he has also had two previous stints. You would not expect him to be a starting pick at that price, but stranger things have happened in the IPL, and Jackson was in destructive form during this tournament. He scored 242 runs in just five innings at an average of 80.42 and a strike rate of 155.12, with a knock of 106* in just 50 balls against Andhra Pradesh, were Puducherry were able to chase down a target of 227, being one of the highlights of the tournament. The right-handed wicketkeeper-batsman usually comes in at number three for his state side, and there could perhaps be a slot for him there in the KKR lineup as well, given that their big-hitting trio of Eoin Morgan, Dinesh Karthik and Andre Russell all prefer to bat down the order, while Shubman Gill and Nitish Rana are expected to open the batting, leaving that number 3 spot open for someone to grab.
Lukman Meriwala, 29, Delhi Capitals
Left-arm fast bowlers are always in demand in short-form cricket due to the unique angles and trajectories that they can create, and Meriwala chose the perfect time to catapult himself into the spotlight with a strong showing in the SMAT for Baroda, where he finished as the second-highest wicket-taker with 15 wickets. This meant that he also secured an IPL berth in the subsequent auction, where the Delhi Capitals bought him for Rs 20 lakh (approx. $27,000). Again, as with Jackson, he is not expected to be a frontline member of the XI, but he does offer something different to Delhi’s standard crop of pace bowlers, and could be drafted into the side for specific matches depending on the pitch and the opposition. Meriwala had one of the best bowling figures in the tournament with 5/8 against Chhatisgarh, and he was also quite frugal, with an economy rate of just 6.52 across eight innings and just under 30 overs bowled, while his average was spectacular as well at 13.26, and with a strike rate of 12.20 as well. Those numbers are quite impressive, and we could expect to see Meriwala get a chance to feature for the Capitals at some point in this year’s IPL.
Avesh Khan, 24, Delhi Capitals
Another of the Delhi side’s domestic contingent of pace bowlers had a very strong SMAT as well, as Khan finished third on the wicket-takers list with 14 wickets for Madhya Pradesh. It was notable that he played just 5 matches in the tournament, with his best bowling figures being 5/17 against Vidarbha, while his overall average, economy and strike rate were all superb, at 10.64, 7.45 and 8.57 respectively. Khan has been with the Delhi Capitals since 2018, having made his IPL debut for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2017, and he is a very good rotation option for the Capitals, in case their lead domestic pacer Ishant Sharma is injured or needs to be rested.
Chetan Sakariya, 23, Rajasthan Royals
The Rajasthan Royals have often been thought of as the IPL’s ‘Moneyball’ franchise – picking up unknown or unfancied players for a pittance and turning them into stars. The likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Shane Watson, Ajinkya Rahane, James Faulkner and Stuart Binny are just a few of the players who have either burst onto the scene, or found their place in the limelight again after a few hiccups, at the Royals. 23-year-old left-arm pacer Sakariya could be one of those to fall into the former category this year, especially as Rajasthan are heavily reliant on their foreign bowling contingent and need their domestic bowlers to step up. The Saurashtra pacer was brilliant during the SMAT, picking up 12 wickets from 5 matches, with his best bowling figures being 5/11 against Vidarbha, and he had a stunning economy rate of just 4.90 for the tournament, with an average of 8.16 and a strike rate of 10.00. Those numbers show why he was bought for Rs 1.20 crore (approx. $164,000) in the auction by the Royals, and with Jofra Archer expected to miss most, if not all of this year’s tournament with an injury, the Royals are in desperate need of their support cast stepping up to make sure that his absence is not felt. Sakariya usually bowls up front and at the death, and thus could definitely fill some of Archer’s big shoes with some strong performances this season.
Mohammed Azharuddeen, 27, Royal Challengers Bangalore
Another case of a famous namesake showing up in the tournament, with Azharuddeen sharing his name with a former India captain. However, their styles of play could not be more different, while the senior Azhar was all wrists and elegance, this wicket-keeper batsman from Kerala is all about power. He came into the spotlight in this year’s SMAT when he smashed a 37-ball century against Mumbai, ending unbeaten on 137 off just 54 balls and helping his side chase down a target of 197 in under 16 overs. He opens the batting for Kerala, and while those slots are occupied at the moment for RCB, with captain Virat Kohli and emerging prospect Devdutt Padikkal set to lead the batting, there is every chance that he gets an opportunity to showcase his talent as the season progresses, especially if Kohli is moved down to shore up the middle order. He could himself be used as a late-stage pinch-hitter at number five or six as well, and all the noises around the RCB camp have been quite positive around the player who the franchise picked up for just Rs 20 lakh (approx. $27,000) in February’s auction.
These are just some of the players who we believe are worth keeping an eye out for in this season’s IPL, based on their form in the domestic white-ball tournaments as well as the tactical needs and requirements of their franchises. The IPL is a tournament where even a couple of game-changing performances can push you straight to the top, and therefore all these players will be hoping that they get at least a couple of opportunities to show their worth this season.