From Ganguly to Badani it's a comeback chance
For some people, it has never been in sharper focus that cricket is a one-ball game. Sourav Ganguly has one Challenger Trophy to create the kind of sensation and spectacle that will force a change in fortunes and launch him back into the Indian one-day team. It's still a long shot, but the middle-order is far from settled - and performances in the last two one-day series have left the door ajar - though not quite wide open. There is immense pressure that Ganguly step on to the field as the day before the tournament indicated.
Although his team play their first match only on Monday, he was the first player to arrive for practice on Saturday. As he walked out the small clusters of onlookers gathered in the stands, the net bowlers, and even some of the ground staff broke into spontaneous applause and shouts cheering him. He settled down and had a long net, and looked confident enough, playing some of his trademark lofted drives. A few balls did go off the bat, but that tends to happen when you bat for 45 minutes in the nets as Ganguly did.
The second man to whom this Challenger Series for the NKP Salve Trophy assumes far bigger proportions than just any domestic one-day tournament is Zaheer Khan. After being initially dropped from the team, reportedly due to his attitude, he forced his way back for the Pakistan tour with a strong showing in domestic cricket. Now, he's done the same, picking up 78 wickets from 16 matches for Worcestershire in the County Championships.
To a lesser degree the tournament is also significant for Ashish Nehra, Lakshmipathy Balaji and Hemang Badani. With Irfan Pathan struggling to regain his form of old, there's bound to be a few people looking closely at the fast-bowling options at hand, and if they're fully fit, both Balaji, with his ability to swing the ball, and Nehra, with his bounce and sharpish pace, could be welcome additions to the side. Badani has been out of the side now for ages, but the comeback of Dinesh Mongia is enough to raise hopes of one more shot at the big league.
What gives the tournament the extra edge is the fact that almost all members of the Mohammad Kaif-led India Green, believe they should be playing for India, and most have done so at various junctures. It is this team that will give India Blue, the main team, a serious run for its money. With a batting line-up that includes Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Badani, Parthiv Patel behind the stumps, and Nehra and Balaji in the bowling side of things, they could easily pull off an upset.
For the members of the Red team, led by Y Venugopala Rao, the outing is a chance to signal that they too are around. There are a number of cricketers who are being spoken of with regard by people in the know, and these include Rohit Sharma, the Mumbai batsman, TP Singh from Railways, C Raghu of Karnataka, who bats in the middle-order and bowls offbreaks, and S Badrinath, an energetic batsman and fielder.
There has been the odd shower in the past few days, but that is not unusual for the time of the year. The MA Chidambaram Stadium, however, is in good condition to deal with the rain, if it's only a matter of a passing shower. The outfield has been redone specifically with the aim of improving drainage, and Tamil Nadu Cricket Association officials were confident that, barring a deluge, the tournament should progress without major disruption. If anything, the heat will be a factor, which makes both playing in the first half, in the baking heat, and under lights in draining humidity, a tough ask.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo