Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy has been a platform for talented batsmen to be scouted for the Indian cricket team in the T20 format and franchise teams in the cash-rich Indian T20 League.

The 12-season-old T20 domestic tournament has seen a whirlwind of performances that have aided in broadening local cricketers’ scope. Thus, we pick out those three players whose innings elevated the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy’s competitiveness.

Hardik Pandya (2016)

Hardik Pandya is a name synonymous with run-machine and an eccentric figure on the cricket field. It was not until Baroda’s Group C match against Delhi in 2016 that Pandya had the first taste of global recognition.

Pandya came to bat at number three, and he took Baroda from 93/6 after 18 overs to 153/6 by the end of their innings. Akash Sudan, playing in only his second T20 game, was given to bowl the last over, and little did he know that the then-22-year-old Pandya would take him to the cleaners.

Hardik Pandya hit 6, 4b, 6, 6+NB, 4, 6, 6 off Sudan’s over, thereby setting the record for most runs in an over in T20 cricket. This performance served as a stepping stone for him ahead of his T20I debut in January 2016, where he claimed two wickets but did not bat against Australia.

Today, Pandya is a household name at the Mumbai franchise team in the Indian T20 League and for the Indian cricket team, given he has scored 2505 runs in T20 cricket at a strike rate of 143.71.    

Shreyas Iyer (2019)

The city of Mumbai is one of the biggest hubs for cricket talents, and a certain Shreyas Iyer has taken quality strides towards being an up-and-coming superstar.

Following senior counterparts Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, Iyer has risen through the ranks to lead Mumbai and is their third-highest run-getter in the T20 format - 1103 runs in 37 matches. The 26-year-old had already generated headlines for leading his side to the 2018-19 Vijay Hazare Trophy, and his dominant innings against Sikkim in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in 2019 broke not one but three records in succession.

Ajinkya Rahane and Prithvi Shaw, who opened in the fixture, were dismissed, and the onus fell upon Shreyas Iyer to help the team post a defendable score. The top-order batsman joined forces with Suryakumar Yadav and stitched a 213-run partnership. Iyer, batting with a composed mind, reached his century in just 38 balls before being dismissed for 147 runs (55 deliveries).

At the time of his dismissal, Shreyas Iyer notched the highest individual score by an Indian in T20s and the 12th highest score by a batsman in the T20 cricket history.

Iyer’s development has been a start-and-stop record, but given the buckets of potential in him, onlookers and former cricketers have tipped him to be the fixed answer to the number four conundrum. 

Mohammed Azharuddeen (2021)

The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy has always treated fans to special surprises, and the emergence of Mohammed Azharuddeen has now taken the country by storm.

The 26-year-old, who has featured 22 times for Kerala, showcased glimpses of his namesake ‘ Mohammed Azharuddin’ against Mumbai at the Wankhede Stadium with nine fours and six sixes in his 54-ball knock of 137*. 

A wicketkeeper-batsman, Azharuddeen helped his team chase down Mumbai's target of 196 within 15.5 overs. His century off 37 balls is the second-fastest in the competition’s history, and the third joint-fastest T20 hundred by an Indian batsman.

Azharuddeen's spectacular knock has now put him in the spotlight, with a host of prominent cricket figures now pushing for him to have a shot in the Indian T20 League. The 26-year-old forged comfortable partnerships with Robin Uthappa (33) and Sanju Samson (22) to cause one of the biggest upsets in the 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, and he is eager to carry the momentum as Kerala progress through the tournament. 

Featured image courtesy: Twitter / @BCCIdomestic