No answers to India's bowling worries
Rest of India are now favourites to take home the Irani Cup but with their players on the selectors' radar - in the last first-class game of the domestic season - just ahead of the major Test series against Australia, individual goals have assumed a greater prominence. There is a competition for places in India's Test side, and the bowling department seems an open field.
Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav are injured and doubtful starters, Ishant Sharma looked a likely retention despite taking just seven wickets at 75 last year and he may or may not have a renewed fitness concern. In the spin department, Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin were outperformed, comprehensively, by Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann in the recent Test series. To be fair to selectors, there haven't been bowlers crying out to be picked for the Tests on the strength of their performance alone in the Ranji season gone by.
The Irani Cup, too, has failed to provide any convincing answers thus far to concerns over the state of India's bowling options ahead of a major Test series. At the outset, it didn't help that Rest of India left out Bengal seamer Shami Ahmed from their XI. Shami made it to the Indian limited-overs team on the strength of his success in the Ranji Trophy, and there was much anticipation over how he would follow up in a five-day fixture just ahead of a Test series.
Those who bowled for Rest of India have not offered much encouragement. Sreesanth's selection is prompted more by hope than recent results, and Abhimanyu Mithun was preferred over more successful competitors from the Ranji season. On a Wankhede track that has a significant shade of green with moisture underneath, the seamers were hardly been able to move the ball. Sreesanth and Mithun averaged around 129-130kmph, looked promising only in their early spells but offered several scoring opportunities thereafter, and rarely beat the bat. Ankeet Chavan at No.8, for instance, received freebies on leg stump and comfortably dispatched those that landed on middle and off on a length.
All seamers, Ishwar Pandey included, took their time to complete their overs and played their part in slowing down the over-rate considerably by overstepping - there have been 22 no-balls in this game so far. In Rest of India's case, it wasn't a surprise, with the seamers landing their foot over the line by a massive margin during the warm-ups ahead of play.
If the seamers' lack of urgency and discipline were not enough, the spinners presented their own reasons for concern. Harbhajan Singh's inclusion in the squad is in itself an indictment of a dearth of spin options on the domestic circuit and though he picked up three wickets, he was a beneficiary of an umpiring error and a poor shot from Rohit Sharma who didn't help his own case for selection. Pragyan Ojha was dominated by Sachin Tendulkar, and while that's no shame the questions over his effectiveness on an unresponsive track remained, as there was no turn, or perhaps not as much spin imparted on the ball as has been his problem. Of his two victims, Dhawal Kulkarni negotiated him assuredly before a needless attempt to clear mid-off with Tendulkar at the other end gifted Ojha a wicket - an unlikely possibility against an Australian batsman.
India's national selectors, who meet on Sunday, will be deliberating over an attack without a fast-bowling core, spinners having shown no signs of improvement since the England series, and very limited options on the table, none of them an-out-an-out case for selection owing to merit. Rest of India bowlers could get a second chance if their side aim for an outright victory, but there's no certainty about that either.
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo