Another chance for the hopefuls
Friday, October 1, Jaipur
Start time 0930 am (0400 GMT)
The Big Picture
The storied Irani Cup, once the curtain-raiser for the cricket season in India, has this year been consigned to a sideshow, as it coincides exactly with the first Test between India and Australia in Mohali. Not that it will make much of a difference to those on the fringes of the Indian team, who will use the chance to impress the national selectors.
There are the usual suspects like S Badrinath, who must be wondering what has gone wrong with his fledgling Test career. After playing in the home series against South Africa this year, he now stands behind Suresh Raina and Cheteshwar Pujara in the fight for the No. 6 slot.
It was Sourav Ganguly's non-selection for the Irani Cup two years ago that eventually opened up a position in the fortress that India's middle-order has been in recent years. That no one has since claimed that spot as his own only shows what a huge hole remains to be filled once the other three slots fall vacant.
The Rest of India side is filled with batsmen who are potential Test candidates when the stalwarts currently occupying the Indian middle-order retire. While Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund had fine tours of England with the A team, Virat Kohli has become a regular member of the one-day squad and Saurabh Tiwary has also been a part of the senior squad for the past couple of ODI series.
The captain, Yuvraj Singh, hasn't hidden his disappointment at being axed from the Test side. The selectors wanted him to play this game to get some match practice before the ODIs against Australia but this is his chance to prove he is still worthy of a Test place.
Meanwhile, the composition of the pace attack shows who are the current flavours in India's revolving-door approach towards fast bowling. Last year's squad had Munaf Patel, Irfan Pathan, Sudeep Tyagi and Sreesanth. While Sreesanth is away on national duty in Mohali, none of the other three are in this year's squad (Munaf is not in any of the three Challenger Trophy teams as well). They have been replaced by Saurashtra's Jaydev Unadkat, Vidarbha's Umesh Yadav, and the Karnataka pair of Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun. Unadkat and Yadav didn't do too well against the Australians in the tour game in Chandigarh, and would be hoping for a better show in Jaipur.
The other team, Mumbai, have now finished runners-up in their five previous appearances in the Irani Cup. The 39-time Ranji Trophy champions are not used to finishing second-best so often. Wasim Jaffer, their captain, is keen to add another trophy to his already large collection of domestic titles. "I am aware that we have not won the Irani Trophy for the past 12 years and we would give our best to break the jinx."
While Pujara's 60-plus first-class average has been highlighted before, and after, his Test call-up, Ajinkya Rahane would feel that an average of almost five runs more than Pujara should keep him in the reckoning if the selectors are looking for a top-order batsman. An unbeaten century against the Australians in Chandigarh has further bolstered his case. Another big innings would do his prospects no harm. It's also time for a certain Rohit Sharma to show why he had been considered as a possible replacement for Ganguly at one time.
Rest of India (from): Yuvraj Singh (capt), Abhinav Mukund, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, S Badrinath, Saurabh Tiwary, Parthiv Patel (wk), Piyush Chawla, R Ashwin, Jaydev Unadkat, Umesh Yadav, Vinay Kumar, Manish Pandey, Abhimanyu Mithun and Ravindra Jadeja
Mumbai (from): Wasim Jaffer (capt), Ajit Agarkar, Omkar Gurav, Harmeet Singh, Murtuza Hussain, Iqbal Abdulla, Omkar Khanvilkar, Sahil Kukreja, Dhawal Kulkarni, Usman Malvi, Sushant Marathe (wk), Abhishek Nayar, Ramesh Powar, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma
"I am not aware what goes around. I too was surprised at not being chosen. I am not aware why I was axed."
Yuvraj Singh is still to get over his axing from the Test team
"We have become used to their absence. Due to the busy international calendar they often skip domestic matches."
Wasim Jaffer says Mumbai are used to playing without Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo