Strong Rest of India squad on the cards
Most of India's Test regulars are likely to be picked in the Rest of India squad for the Irani Trophy match against Delhi, the reigning Ranji Trophy champions. With India not playing any international cricket till the Australia Test series next month, the selectors will probably choose the best XIV for the domestic season opener from September 24-28.
Anil Kumble, India's Test captain, is likely to lead a strong squad; the last time most Test players featured in the Irani Trophy was in 2003-04, when the Sourav Ganguly-led Rest of India beat a Mumbai side led by Sachin Tendulkar. Usually, the selectors use the Irani Trophy as a platform for upcoming talent to display their prowess, but this time they are averse to including new faces since the match will be the ideal warm-up for India's players before the first Test against Australia, which begins in Bangalore on October 9. In all probability, they will retain the Test side, with replacements for the players from Delhi - Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma.
The players representing India A in the ongoing series against Australia A are unlikely to be considered, since they'll have more opportunities to play for the A side: besides the three-day games against Australia A, they will also be involved in a tri-series against the A teams from Australia and New Zealand. The one exception could be Robin Uthappa, who is in the A team but could make it to the Rest of India squad in the absence of Test openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik are the other contenders for the openers' slots. If he makes the cut, Jaffer can count himself lucky since he was dropped from the Test team after a dismal run which fetched him just 175 runs in his last 11 innings.
Karthik, who's also the team's second-choice wicketkeeper after Mahendra Singh Dhoni, had cemented his Test place as a regular opener after showing patience and character in challenging conditions during the England tour last year. However, two poor Tests in the subsequent series against Pakistan cost him his place at the top of the order. Karthik got another opportunity - as a wicketkeeper-batsman at No. 7 - when Dhoni opted out of the recent Test series in Sri Lanka. However, after just 36 runs in two Tests, he was dropped in favour of Parthiv Patel for the third and final Test. A good performance here could help one of the openers seal their place in the Test squad as a back-up for Sehwag and Gambhir.
The rest of the batting order will probably see no changes. Sachin Tendulkar has declared himself fit for the match, and is likely to play in the middle order alongside Rahul Dravid, Ganguly and VVS Laxman. The likes of Mohammad Kaif, S Badrinath and Yuvraj Singh will have to wait for another chance.
The bowling line-up, too, is set to remain unchanged with the exception of Ishant Sharma, who was declared fit by the NCA physio, and now can play for Delhi. Zaheer Khan will most likely share the new ball with Munaf Patel, and RP Singh will be picked as the the third seamer. Pragyan Ojha will be the third spinner along with Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.
The selectors, who will meet in Mumbai on Monday, will also pick the India A squad for the tri-series against the A sides from Australia and New Zealand.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo