India ‘A’ completed a clean sweep of the three-match unofficial ODI series against New Zealand ‘A’ after winning a thriller at Visakhapatnam yesterday.
The entire tournament threw up potential international stars for both teams. For cricketers Mark Gillespie, Luke Ronchi and India discard Robin Uthappa, this was a chance to remind the selection panel that they were still in the scheme of things.
One of the stand-out performers in the series was a relatively lesser-known lad from Udaipur, whose all-round display secured the last two games for the Indians. There was a hint of calmness about his approach, and the shots he essayed all over the park in the final game bore testament to his immense talent.
Ashok Lakshminarayan Menaria made a rather unusual career choice when he decided to focus on cricket, given that he hails from a community of priests in Udaipur.
He made his first-class debut for Rajasthan against Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy Super League in November 2008, taking the wickets of Rohit Sharma, Sairaj Bahutule and Ajit Agarkar with his innocuous left-arm spin; his side eventually lost by a huge margin, though his performance received some praise.
He honed his cricketing skills at the RCA Centre of Excellence, and later captained the India U-19 team on the tour to Australia in 2009, winning the ODI series there. His all-round performances prompted the selectors to retain him as skipper for the U-19 World Cup in New Zealand, but it was a disappointing outing as India lost to Pakistan in the quarter-finals.
In the 2010-11 season, Ashok steered Rajasthan to its first ever Ranji title; he scored successive centuries in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the finals.
His maiden three-figure knock in first-class cricket came against domestic powerhouse Mumbai, who had won the title an unprecedented 39 times till then; the left-hander thwarted their hopes by helping his side post a massive total, enabling a victory on the basis of a vital first-innings lead.
These exploits led to an IPL contract with the Rajasthan Royals, for whom he made his debut in 2011.
Menaria’s cricketing style and demeanour reminds one of the majestic Yuvraj Singh in his younger days. In fact, the young all-rounder shares a few similarities with the Punjab dasher – both are left-handed, both love to play their shots, and both are smart fielders as well as useful part-time bowlers.
Yet, while Yuvraj has been fairly consistent, Menaria has blown hot and cold in his fledgling first-class career so far – this can be attributed to his youthful inexperience.
Since his IPL debut with the Royals, Menaria hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. He has a tendency to play too may shots early in his innings, and a propensity to hit the ball in the air has led to his downfall more than once.
For someone who has shown early promise as an all-rounder, he has been a bit of a let-down for the Royals – getting out cheaply at times, and not being too effective with his spin either.
Nevertheless, the Udaipur southpaw has done well with the bat in recent times.
In October 2012, on a tour to New Zealand, he hammered a magnificent century to pull his side out of trouble after the Kiwi bowlers had made early in-roads into the line-up. Upon returning to India for the Ranji season, he made another hundred against Saurashtra in December of that year.
Whether he breaks into the senior squad after his exploits against New Zealand ‘A’, only time will tell.
India has certainly unearthed a special talent – and Ashok Menaria will look to make the most of the opportunities offered to him. For now, the new kid on the block will savour the sweet taste of a clean sweep.