October 1-5, 2009
Start time 09.30 am (0400 GMT)
The Irani Cup, that old institution which once made and broke careers, has unexpectedly found a fresh lease of life and interest because of the current bowling crisis that ails India. There are a bunch of contenders in Sreesanth, Munaf Patel and Sudeep Tyagi who have an opportunity to showcase their talent.
The first step in an inevitable comeback from injury for Virender Sehwag will also be in focus. And then there's Rohit Sharma. No one doubts his talent but not everyone is convinced about his commitment. This game, the start of the upcoming first-class season, will give Rohit a chance to silence his critics. He has lost some weight during pre-season training and the Mumbai insiders say he is hungry as well. He has started the comeback process with another good step: acceptance of his mistakes during his stint with the senior team. "I tried to be what I wasn't," he said recently.
There are also the usual suspects: S Badrinath for instance. No one questions his commitment but many seem to be a touch hesitant in giving him the India cap. He is old, they say; he isn't. He doesn't seem to have that X-factor to play for India, they say, but Badrinath is trying hard to prove them wrong. Perhaps that's his lot, but he doesn't think so and is ready to wage yet another battle for a national call-up.
It's an opportunity for the left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha as well. He doesn't quite know why he was dropped by the national selectors but realises he has to raise his game above Amit Mishra's. There is also Manoj Tiwary who seems to have got past the disappointments of ill-timed injuries that derailed his career and is itching to move on.
Rest of India's opponents are Mumbai, that great Ranji side of the past, wondering how their future will be. They are a proud team, as evidenced by the few words Wasim Jaffer spoke about winning the Irani Cup, but they a team lacking the superstars that once made winning the Ranji Trophy almost a mere formality. They still are a strong side, after all they are the reigning champions, but the aura isn't there anymore. They are similar to Australia, and are keen to make a fresh start.
They have begun by dropping Amol Muzumdar, the old warhorse, and Sairaj Bahutule. Only four men with links to the past remain: the captain Jaffer, Ajit Agarkar, Ramesh Powar and that faithful servant of Mumbai cricket, Vinayak Samant.
Irfan Pathan will miss out because of the same knee injury which had kept him out of the Corporate Cup. Rest of India haven't asked for a replacement for Virat Kohli, who's in the Champions Trophy squad, and Bhuneshwar Kumar and Uday Kaul are likely to sit out of the playing XI. The team is strong and is easily the favorite to win the contest.
Rest of India: (probable) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 S Badrinath, 3 M Vijay, 4 Abhinav Mukund, 5 Ravindra Jadeja, 6 Manoj Tiwary, 7 Wriddiman Saha, 8 Sreesanth, 9 Pragyan Ojha, 10 Munaf Patel, 11 Sudeep Tyagi.
Mumbai are yet to decide their XI but Jaffer talked about likely replacements for Muzumdar. Sushant Marathe, who featured in the Corporate Cup, Prashant Naik, the lad from Pune, and Omkar Khanvilkar will be given chances to stake claims for Muzumdar's spot. Mumbai's bowling is comparatively weaker but in Dhawal Kulkarni they have a bowler who is likely to make full use of the new ball and in Saurabh Netravalkar, who did well in the Corporate Cup, they have an emerging talent.
Mumbai: (probable) 1 Wasim Jaffer, 2 Ajit Agarkar, 3 Ajinkya Rahane, 4 Sahil Kukreja, 5 Rohit Sharma, 6 Omkar Kanvilkar/Sushant Marathe, 7 Vinayak Samant, 8 Ramesh Powar 9 Iqbal Abdulla, 10 Rahil Sheikh, 11 Dhawal Kulkarni.
Pitch and conditions
There is a green tinge to the surface. The grass is well rolled to bind the track but, perhaps due to rain over the last two nights, patches of fresh grass have emerged. One has to wait and see whether it would remain on the match day. Wasim Jaffer hung to that lovely cliché: "A very good sporting wicket."
Watch out for...
Sreesanth v Rohit Sharma: and Sreesanth v Sreesanth. If the second battle is won, the former is likely to be a cracking contest.
Munaf Patel v Sudeep Tyagi: Tyagi is what Munaf Patel once was - pace and bounce from just short of length. However, Munaf is the steadier bowler and it will be an interesting battle.
Sehwag v Powar: If Sehwag gets going, needless to say, it will be a no contest irrespective of what Mumbai hurl at him. But it will be fascinating to see how Powar, that wonderfully daring practitioner of flight, will bowl to the most lethal destroyer of spin on the international circuit.
Stats and trivia
The last time Mumbai won the Irani Trophy was in 1997-98 season.
"Amol is difficult to replace but we have three good youngsters in Omkar Kanvilkar, Sushant Marathe and Prashant Naik. They will be given chances during this season to claim [Muzumdar's] spot"
Jaffer plans for the future
"I don't know why Irfan is not playing. All I know is Bhuvneshwar Kumar has come in for him. You have to ask the chairman of selectors. I am not supposed to tell."
Yashpal Sharma, the national selector who is doubling up as manager of Rest of India, plays hard-to-get rather unnecessarily.