A contest that favours bowlers

Sachin Tendulkar is injured, and there are other significant omissions, but the squads for Rest of India and Delhi, the Ranji Trophy champions, have enough big names to ensure a high-profile contest for the 2008-09 Irani Trophy. Rest of India, comprising several current internationals, start as favourites. Since 2000, they have won six out of eight Irani Cup games, whereas in the 1990s they had won only four out of ten, and lost five in a row. Delhi have won the Irani Cup twice, in 1980-81 and 1989-90, and were runners-up on three occasions.

Notes: 1. Bombay and the Rest of India shared the Irani Cup in 1965 and 1985.
2. In the event of an inconclusive result the team with the first-innings lead is the winner.

A characteristic of most Irani Cup matches since 2000 has been the relative dominance of bowlers. The high frequency of outright results in recent seasons, a deviation from the trend of high-scoring draws that dominated first-class cricket in the previous two decades, can be largely attributed to the bowlers' greater influence. No team in the last seven years has scored 500 in an innings.

Total scores above 300 - 10 in eight matches

Total scores under 300 (when sides are bowled out)- 16

The competition has produced many noteworthy performances, especially by players who now make up the current Rest of India squad. Tendulkar's replacement, S Badrinath, tops the batting averages with 109 in two games, including an unbeaten 80 in 2006. Rahul Dravid averages 91.20 from three matches while VVS Laxman averages 54.91, scoring two hundreds and a 99, all of which were match-winning knocks. Parthiv Patel, the probable opener for Rest of India, also boasts an admirable record, almost single-handedly leading his team to victory with 179 and an unbeaten 59 against Mumbai in 2007. Wasim Jaffer has been the most frequent participant in this tournament among the current participants, averaging 40.69 in 14 innings, which is lower than his first-class average of 48.

In the Delhi squad, Virender Sehwag has made one Irani Cup appearance, scoring 52 runs in two innings, including a run-a-ball 36 against Mumbai in 2003. Gautam Gambhir has fared better, averaging 41 in three matches.

Rest of India's pace attack consists of Munaf Patel, who helped skittle Mumbai for 106 with a five-wicket haul in 2007, and Zaheer Khan, who's been consistent with 16 wickets in three games. Delhi fast bowler Ishant Sharma represented Rest of India against Mumbai last year and took six wickets at an average of 15.66.

However, the spinners who played an influential role in helping Rest of India dominate the competition for the last seven years are not in the current squad. Murali Kartik, dropped from India's ODI team after the series against Pakistan in 2007, has captured 27 wickets in five matches. While Sarandeep Singh, Kulamani Parida and Ramesh Powar, three other notable performers in the competition, have been off the selectors' radar for a while now, legspinner Piyush Chawla finds himself trumped by Pragyan Ojha, the left-arm spinner. Ojha joins the spin duo of and Anil Kumble - has taken 28 wickets in four matches - and Harbhajan Singh.

Sides fielding first have dominated the Irani Cup since 2000, winning seven of the eight matches. In the last three years, however, teams winning the toss have batted (and lost). The pitches at venues which have hosted the competition since 1990 have proved conducive to both pace and spin. In the last seven years, fast bowlers have taken nearly 54% of the wickets in each innings. Spinners on the winning team have had a greater say in the second innings of matches with outright results, capturing 55% of the wickets.

Since 2000, teams batting first have struggled in their second innings. Their average total score declines from 285 in the first innings to 224 in the second. In fact, these failures have proved pivotal in their defeats, with sides reaching targets with ease. The last three games have resulted in nine-wicket wins for the side batting fourth.

The difference in first-innings scores in matches played since 2000 has not been substantial. The average first-innings lead in these games is only 71 runs.

However, between 1990 and 1999, the contests were more one-sided, with the first-innings lead in ten games averaging 206.

With the rain keeping the IPCL Stadium pitch under wraps for the last 10 days, the curators have had little time to produce a track that would fit such a big game. One day before the start of the match, the pitch is a big variable, and it remains to be seen if the pattern of the recent Irani Cup matches will be repeated over the next five days.