If ever there was a good time to be a first-class cricketer in India, it is now. In a mood to do the right things for the game, the Indian board summoned up 36 probables to train together at Bangalore. Almost everyone who was anyone rubbed shoulders with the big names, and trained under John Wright. From the training camp on to the real show. The four-match Challenger Series kicks off at Bangalore tomorrow, amid expectations that several promising cricketers will get a chance to showcase their talent.
Sourav Ganguly, leading the India Seniors team, has a talented lot at his disposal, retaining VVS Laxman, Sanjay Bangar, Parthiv Patel and Zaheer Khan from the national side. Ambati Rayudu has made waves with his batting over the last year and he will be watched closely. In addition, Ganguly also has the best spin attack in the tournament - Murali Kartik, Amit Mishra and Harbhajan Singh. Harbhajan was earlier being rested so as to give him time to recover from his finger injury, but he was so keen to play that the selectors had to induct him. Sarandeep Singh was shifted to India B to accomodate him.
For India A, Anil Kumble will bank on Sachin Tendulkar to do the bulk of the scoring. Mohammad Kaif is the other member from the Indian team to make the side. Mithun Manhas, a dangerous striker of the ball, and Ramesh Powar, who played a big role in Mumbai's Ranji Trophy success, will aim to catch the eye of the national selectors.
Without doubt, India B are the weakest of the three teams. Rahul Dravid leads a side short on stars - Yuvraj Singh is the only other big name in the squad. In Shiv Sunder Das and Satyajit Parab the batting has solidity if not style. The bowling looks sharp with Aavishkar Salvi and Irfan Pathan competing to make an impact, and Sarandeep yearning to prove a point or two.
It's going to be hard for the players to make a big impression over just four days. Yet, the Challenger series has always evoked plenty of excitement. After all, it's not every day that the cream of the talent in the country is on display. Under lights, competing for the few slots vacant in the Indian team, there just might be a few standout performances.
Sourav Ganguly (capt), VVS Laxman, Hemang Badani, Ambati Rayudu, Sanjay Bangar, Parthiv Patel (wk), Amit Mishra, Murali Kartik, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, L Balaji, Reetinder Sodhi, Akash Chopra.
Anil Kumble (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Rohan Gavaskar, Mohammad Kaif, Wasim Jaffer, Sridharan Sriram, Ajay Ratra (wk), Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Mithun Manhas, Ramesh Powar.
Rahul Dravid (capt), Shiv Sunder Das, Satyajit Parab, Vijay Bharadwaj, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Mongia, Thilak Naidu (wk), Jai P Yadav, Aavishkar Salvi, Siddharth Trivedi, Sairaj Bahutule, Amit Bhandari, Sarandeep Singh.
September 10 India Sr v India A
September 11 India Sr v India B
September 13 India A v India B
September 14 Final