A lot at stake
With the national team ranked seventh in the one-day table and 12 ODIs against Sri Lanka and South Africa at home on the near horizon, the Challenger Trophy, which gets underway at Mohali on October 10, provides an ideal dress rehearsal for the Indian side to rediscover their winning ways. As always the tournament will also offer a chance for lesser known players to make a name for themselves in a domestic tournament that probably commands the most national interest. This will be the first time that Powerplays and Supersubs will be used in India and there are even match cameras in place for referring lbw decisions to the third umpire, a system that needs the board's final clearance before its implementation.
Clash of the unequals
Unlike the previous three editions, when the three teams picked had a balanced look about them, this year will see an uneven battle, on paper at least. With two important series coming up, the selectors felt that the senior side needed to gel as a unit and settle upon the right winning formula. Also, a strong senior side means that lesser-known players in India A and India B will get a chance to test themselves against the best talent in the country, barring Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid, who are currently taking part in the Super Series, and Sourav Ganguly, who was ruled out owing to a tennis elbow.
Players to watch out for
The tournament has already generated tremendous interest owing to the presence of Sachin Tendulkar and his every move, after a six month lay-off, will be eagerly scrutinised. Venugopal Rao and Suresh Raina, who are yet to score a half-century in ODIs, will get another opportunity to showcase their talent while Zaheer Khan and VVS Laxman, omitted from the tri-series in Zimbabwe, have a chance to show that they aren't finished as one-day players.
The Challengers has also been the tournament when names, familiar only through media reports, make their first appearance on television. After reading reams and reams about his composure and class, it was delightful to watch a young Rahul Dravid counter Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble in the 1995-96 edition of the tournament. Nobody who saw the '94-'95 final will forget Sairaj Bahutule's outrageous legbreak to bowl Vinod Kambli. Will we be talking about Piyush Chawla, the legspinner from UP, or Manoj Tiwari, the allrounder from Bengal, at the end of this series?
Lights, cameras, action
The previous edition of the Challenger Trophy, at Mumbai in March this year, wasn't televised and received a lukewarm response. Going by the events in the build-up to the tournament, this one promises to have a much bigger appeal. Tendulkar's presence always adds zing to any event but worldwide coverage from Zee Sports and positive ticket sales have added an additional buzz to this event. The Punjab Cricket Association have prepared for his tournament like the way they would for an international game and media facilities and security have been spruced up.
When the Challenger Trophy was held in Mohali in 1996-97, the team batting second won all four games with no team managing more than 250. But those were the days when this stadium held the reputation of being the bounciest track in the country and assisted the faster bowlers throughout. Ever since it has produced some high-scoring encounters and, despite the greenish tinge to the pitch on the eve of the game, promises to turn into a belter. That at least some of the batsmen take this opportunity by the scruff of the neck, though, remains to be seen.
India Senior: Sachin Tendulkar, Satyajit Parab, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif (capt), Y Venugopal Rao, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Harbhajan Singh, Murali Kartik, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, JP Yadav, Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan
India A: Gautam Gambhir, Dheeraj Jadhav, VVS Laxman (capt), Suresh Raina, Hemang Badani, Niraj Patel, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Ramesh Powar, Rudra Pratap Singh, Laxmipathy Balaji, VRV Singh, Shahbaz Nadeem, Manoj Tiwari
India B: Shikhar Dhawan, Robin Utthappa, Dinesh Mongia (capt), Sridharan Sriram, Sunny Singh, Parthiv Patel (wk), S Sree Santh, Ranadeb Bose, Amit Bhandari, Ravikant Shukla, Piyush Chawla, Sreekumar Nair
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo