The IPL is near, heading towards us like a meteor. A meteor carrying cheerleaders, soulless sponsors and music way past its expiry date. And whichever Ravi Shastri clone swallowed a microphone.
Last year we used it as an emotional shield from the battering India received in Tests, this year we can pretend to be eagle-eyed scouts looking into space for the future stars of Indian cricket.
I peered at this year's squads with narrowed eyes to make this very short list, because I was looking for players who were (a) new to the gig and (b) likely to get at least one game. That ruled out most of the others. That doesn't mean there won't be surprises, because IPL teams are only consistent in their inconsistence.
Baba Aparajith (Chennai Super Kings) - Big things are expected of this 18-year old, who was a key part of India's recent U-19 World Cup win. Apart from looking like R. Ashwin's younger brother, he's a reliable batsman, a more-than-handy offspinner and an athletic fielder. Doesn't have much of a T20 record yet, but he is playing for his home side and he might get a couple of opportunities if luck Dhoni allows it.
Ishwar Pandey (Pune Warriors) - He has had a very impressive season, and would even be known as the best fast (medium) bowler in India if random comments on the Internet meant anything. His chances of making the XI are low, as Pune also have Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ashok Dinda, but with the number of games to be played he could get a game or two.
Vijay Zol (Royal Challengers Bangalore) - Another member of the successful U-19 side, Zol was snapped up by RCB before last year's IPL. This aggressive left-hander has already taken to T20 cricket, having already notched up a hundred and a fifty within his first four senior matches, with a strike rate of 150. RCB are always rotating their Indian batsmen who aren't named Kohli, so he will get his chance.
Biplab Samantray (Sunrisers Hyderabad) - He's an underrated medium-pace bowling allrounder, with more domestic T20 fifties and a better economy rate than Ravindra Jadeja. Hyderabad having the weakest Indian contingent in the IPL could well work in his favor.
Not the image you're looking for.
Sachin Baby (Rajasthan Royals) - Because why the hell not? Look at that name. Now look at it again. Keep looking at it until you're imagining Sachin Tendulkar's head on a baby's body. Okay, it's not that much different from the real thing (just kidding, Sachin diehards. don't come looking for me, I only exist on the Internet)
Aaanyway, about this guy. He definitely has the numbers - he averages just under 50 in List A games at a strike rate of 103, while averaging a shade under 20 at a strike rate of 160 in T20s. He could be just what Rajasthan need to shore up a shaky lower middle order. Also, did I mention his name?
Honorary mention: Unmukt Chand played for Delhi last year and hasn't really looked cut out for T20 until he smashed consecutive hundreds a few days ago.