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Irani Trophy: A lot at stake

Harish Kotian in Vadodara | September 22, 2008 20:06 IST
Last Updated: September 23, 2008 15:53 IST

The 2008 Irani Trophy cannot be passed off as just a routine season-opener; in fact, there is a lot is at stake in the five-day match.

The presence of almost all of India's international stars in the Rest of India and Delhi [Images] teams raises the prospects of a keenly-contested battle at the Baroda Cricket Association stadium, in Vadodara, from September 24 to 28.

The cream of India's batting, barring the injured Sachin Tendulkar [Images], will be on trial following the recent debacle in Sri Lanka [Images]. Rahul Dravid [Images] and VVS Laxman will, no doubt, be keen to regain top batting form before the all-important Test series against Australia [Images] next month.

Sourav Ganguly's [Images] exclusion is a loud and clear indication that it won't be long before the rest of the seniors are also shown the door unless they perform. Therefore, Dravid and Laxman face a far bigger test than their team mates. For them, the Irani Trophy is not only a contest, but also a battle against their ever-growing list of critics.

Wasim Jaffer [Images] gets another chance to impress the selectors, and will have to come up with a real big knock this time. Sure he is aware that his Delhi counterpart Gautam Gambhir [Images] is way ahead in the pecking order as far as Team India is concerned.

Parthiv Patel, who is expected to partner Jaffer at the top of the order, has a good chance to retain his place in the Test squad on the basis of his batting despite the return of Mahendra Singh Dhoni [Images].

Mohammad Kaif has a chance to resurrect his career after a few years in the wilderness. The 27-year-old last played international cricket nearly two years back, but has forced his way into the reckoning with consistent performances at the domestic level and for India A recently.

Also looking to make a mark will be Tamil Nadu's batting mainstay Subramaniam Badrinath, who many believe has the potential to make it big at the international level. He averages an impressive 55.92 with the bat in first class cricket and is quite confident of grabbing the chances that come his way.

Zaheer Khan [Images] will lead the attack, but R P Singh and Munaf Patel [Images] need to dispel doubts about their fitness with a good showing. Bengal's surprise inclusion Ashok Dinda looks unlikely to figure in the eleven, but did manage to impress all his team mates with his pace and swing during the nets session on Monday.

Anil Kumble [Images] and Harbhajan Singh [Images] will also look to get some useful match practice ahead of the four-Test series against Australia, which effectively relegates Pragyan Ojha to the bench.

Similarly, for Delhi, one player the selectors will be keenly watching is Ishant Sharma. The young pacer, who is coming back from an injury -- sustained during the third Test in Sri Lanka � should be the key to Delhi's chances in this match.

With a busy season coming up, the selectors are hoping he makes a successful return from injury.

Delhi coach Vijay Dahiya sounded buoyant when queried about Ishant's condition. "There is no problem with his fitness, he is perfectly alright and looking forward to this game."

Gambhir made his Test debut in 2004, but has still not found a permanent berth in the longer version of the game. However, he had a good series in Sri Lanka along with his Delhi captain Virender Sehwag [Images]; both plundered more than 300 runs each and will be quite keen to continue that partnership in this match too.

Virat Kohli is another young Delhi player hoping to make it count. He made a big impact during the ODI series in Sri Lanka and recently smashed a brilliant 197 against Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Ltd in the Mohammad Nissar Trophy.

Young left-arm pacer Pradeep Sangwan is another youngster regarded highly and is definitely one to watch out for.

Veterans Ashish Nehra and Akash Chopra believe that there is still some light at the end of the tunnel and will be keen to dish out a good performance in hunt for the India cap.

It is quite a rare sight to see so many international players in a domestic game in India. And Dahiya believes that it is a wonderful opportunity for his team to test themselves against the best players.

"It is a fantastic opportunity. Sometimes you make a lot of runs or take a lot of wickets in domestic cricket and people say that the opposition was weak," he said.

On paper, Rest of India start as favourites, but one cannot just write off Delhi, especially when you have Sehwag in the line-up. On his day, the dashing opener can tear apart any bowling attack.

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