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Spotlight on Kaif in Duleep Trophy

February 14, 2005 17:16 IST

A lot of sheen has been taken away from the Duleep Trophy match between East Zone and Central Zone starting in Gwalior on Tuesday with East Zone skipper Sourav Ganguly being ruled out of the four-day tie.

With the suspense over the Indian captain's availability finally over, the spotlight will shift to Mohammad Kaif who will be hoping to correct the anomaly of the best batsman in form being out of the Test team.

The absence of Ganguly, suffering from a side strain, means vice-captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla would now lead East Zone but it would be his counterpart who will be hogging the limelight.

The Uttar Pradesh batsman has been in sublime form throughout this season in both forms of the game. When all his star partners struggled to get going at the start of the season, Kaif scored runs at will.

Neither the mid-season break nor the change of scene, from international to domestic, has affected his scoring rate as the wiry 24-year-old led from the front in the Deodhar Trophy limited overs league tournament and then combined with Rahul Dravid to lead India 'A' to thumping win in the N K P Salve Challenger Series in Mumbai last week.

But even Dravid, unlike his junior colleague, had failed to sustain the momentum of previous season on the international scene. And like Irfan Pathan, the player of the season, Kaif has come like Messiah whenever the team has been in trouble.

Yet, Kaif does not enjoy a permanent spot in the Test team. Blame it on the strength of Indian line-up -- which prompted the famous quote -- "even God cannot find a place in the Indian middle-order" -- but it is to Kaif's credit that the selectors now have something to think about.

He would do well to produce another good knock here that could gain him the nod for the series against Pakistan.

Another player who is in a similar situation is left-arm spinner Murali Kartik. Just when he thought he had tilted the balance in his favour with his man of the match performance in the fourth Test against Australia in Mumbai last November, the Railways' player finds himself belittled by leg spinner Anil Kumble.

With India's highest Test wicket-taker seeming to grow young with every match, it is going to be that much harder for Kartik to break into the Test team.

Nevertheless, with India likely to play the spin card in another home series, a third specialist spinner's place should be that much inspiration for him to do well in the tournament.

It will also be a crucial outing for Jharkhand wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni who gets an opportunity to be in the headlines and prove he is no flash in the pan.


East Zone: Laxmi Ratan Shukla (captain), Rohan Gavaskar, Arindam Das, Sanjib Sanyal, Shib Shankar Paul, Ranadeb Bose, S S Das, Sanjay Satpathi, Dipak Mangaraj, P Jayachandra, M S Dhoni, Shahid Khan, R Satish and Sujit Roy.

Central Zone: Mohammad Kaif (captain), Suresh Raina, Faiz Fazal, Murali Kartik, Kulamani Parida, Praveen Gupta, Yogesh Golwalkar, Abbas Ali, Naman Ojha, Nikhil Dhoru, Sanjay Bangar, J P Yadav, R P Singh, Harvinder Singh, Amit Pagnis.


K Kumaraswamy in Gwalior
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