The domestic season-ending five-day Irani Cup game between newly crowned Ranji Trophy champions Mumbai and the Rest of India, commencing in Mumbai from Sunday, will provide fringe players a good opportunity to stake claims for the national team.
The first class match is the last occasion for hopefuls from both ranks to impress the five-member national selection panel headed by Sandeep Patil before attention shifts totally to the T20 format, commencing with the ICC World T20 Championships.
With the country expected to play over 15 Test matches post Indian Premier League till the end of next season, this match is the ideal platform for these players to strengthen their claims for the long Test haul.
Mumbai, who clinched the Ranji crown for the 41st time last week by defeating Saurashtra by an innings, have a settled combination led by wicket keeper batsman Aditya Tare.
They appear to be better prepared than the motley bunch of Rest of India, being led by Madhya Pradesh stumper Naman Ojha.
However, they would take the Rest of India lightly at their own peril as the latter have a good bowling attack at their command even without originally named Barinder Sran and Nathu Singh who have been injured and replaced by Ankit Rajpoot and Anureet Singh, according to their coach Ashish Kapoor.
The team has Andhra's K S Bharat, who can open the innings, as the second keeper and Vidarbha's Faiz Fazal as his likely opening partner.
The batting appears a bit weak and would be dependent mainly on the experienced trio of Ojha, Karnataka's Karun Nair and Saurashtra's Sheldon Jackson.
Saurashtra's left-arm pacer Jaydev Unadkat, who had a good Ranji season with a haul of 40 wickets - including four in the final against Mumbai - in 11 games, will spearhead the Rest of India pace attack along with Krishna Das of Assam who has forced his way with a grab of 50 wickets from 10 matches.
The spin attack looks thin with Jharkhand left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem and Haryana off-spinner Jayant Yadav to man it though there is Akshay Wakhare in the squad as the other off spin option.
"It will be a good fight against Mumbai. We are a very good bowling team and a young bunch of batsmen. It's good for us," said Ojha ahead of the game.
Mumbai, on the other hand, have quite a few, including Tare himself, to watch out for. Shreyas Iyer is very close to national selection and another top performance after his run-spree in Ranji (1321 runs at 78 per innings) would be very difficult for the selectors to ignore.
Opener Akhil Herwadkar has accumulated 879 runs with his calm approach while Tare has scored 569 runs to go with his new record of 48 victims behind the stumps.
In bowling, the medium pacers have been in the forefront with Shardul Thakur, who had impressed at the same Brabourne Stadium for Board President's XI against the visiting South Africa in a pre-Test warm up game, Dhawal Kulkarni and Balwinder Singh Sandhu playing a big part in the title triumph.
The fact that Mumbai have not won the Irani title since 1997-98 would be an extra motivating factor too.
"We achieved our goal of this season to win the Ranji Trophy but it's history. What matters is what lies ahead and what lies ahead is a very important match again – the Irani Cup which is very historical tournament and which matters a lot to us. So we are geared up again and we have prepared well," said Tare on Saturday.
"Yes, we know it's been a long time since Mumbai has won Irani Cup. So, it is a good challenge for us and good motivation to do something special again in this match," he added.
Rival squads (from):
Mumbai: Aditya Tare (Capt.), Abhishek Nayar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Akhil Herwadkar, Siddhesh Lad, Sufiyan Shaikh, Nikhil Patil (Jr.), Iqbal Abdullah, Shardul Thakur, Balwinder Singh Sandhu (Jr.), Badre Alam, Bhavin Thakkar, Vishal Dabholkar, Jay Bista.
Rest of India: K S Bharat, Faiz Fazal, Karun Nair, Sheldon Jackson, Naman Ojha (Capt.), Stuart Binny, Shahbaz Nadeem, Jayant Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat, Krishna Das, Sudeep Chatterjee, Ian Dev Singh, Akshay Wakhare, Ankit Rajpoot, Anureet Singh.