Challenger Series a big challenge for youngsters

The NKP Salve Challenger Series limited overs tournament will be held at Chennai from February 12 to 15

Waleed Hussain
The NKP Salve Challenger Series limited overs tournament will be held at Chennai from February 12 to 15. The tournament at a glance serves as a platform for youngsters to brush shoulders with the senior players representing the country. It is one of the premier tournaments in the domestic circuit. The performers in the Ranji Trophy tournament get a chance to display their skills pitched against the best talents available in the country. The tournament has three teams, namely India, India A and India B, involved in round robin league matches.
For any youngster, the tournament is a blessing. The tough rise to the occasion and the feeble hearts fade away into the wilderness. The top players take the tournament as a chance to sharpen their skills before an important series.
When a youngster plays against the leading players in the country, there is a sense of nervousness. The butterflies flutter in the stomach all day long. It is the ability to overcome this stiffness and perform that matters the most. That is where the true mark of a player emerges. The big lights, the glamour, the sudden exposure and intense coverage by the media are all new to the young player. It is his composure at this point that counts. The mental toughness is put to the test at this moment of a youngsters's career.
A few players who fared well in the previous edition of the tournament made it to the National team, whereas others faded away into the wilderness. For example, the three wicketkeepers in the last tournament were Indian stumper Nayan Mongia, Sameer Dighe and Ajay Ratra. One year down the line, Mongia has gone through fire and hell in the match-fixing episode. He was finally exonerated and now finds himself leading the West Zone team in the Duleep Trophy and battling hard to make a comeback into the Indian team.
Dighe on the other hand was in and out of the Indian team. He toured Australia for the One Day series and then handed over the gloves to Vijay Dahiya for the Zimbabwe home series. Ratra has donned the skipper's mantle in the ongoing Under-19 'Test' series against the touring England side. Ratra too has been embroiled in a bit of controversy in the last couple of months. He was suspected of being over aged in the recent Cooch Behar Trophy.
The top wicket takers in the 1999-2000 Challenger series were Amit Bhandari, Sunil Joshi, Nikhil Chopra, Anil Kumble and T Kumaran. The Delhi medium pacer, Amit Bhandari, who was the highest wicket taker in the previous edition, could not handle the pressure of international cricket. Joshi has became more or less a regular feature in the National squad since last year. Chopra has recently been given the green signal by the Madhavan committee in the match-fixing case. But he has lost valuable playing days. Kumble will not have a role to play in the home series against Australia, owing to a shoulder operation. The Tamil Nadu mediumpacer Kumaran has been unable to catch the eye of the selectors for quite some time.
The classy Hyderabad batsman, VVS Laxman, S Sharath, SS Das, Mohd Kaif and Rahul Dravid topped the batting charts last time. Laxman is currently in tremendous form, having piled on ten centuries in an equal number of first class games. He looks unstoppable at the moment. Sharath is fading away with age not being on his side. Das came good for India, with a century in the home series against Zimbabwe. Kaif has been given the Jadeja treatment - maybe in maybe out. Kaif has been given a raw deal when it has come to National selection. He has been a member of the Indian squad for quite some time but has been unable to break into the playing eleven. Dravid is a regular in the national side for some time now. He has also answered his critics, for writing him off as a Test player and not fit for the limited overs game.
There will also be considerable focus on two young players who have already done well this season, Ritender Singh Sodhi and Yuvraj Singh. Both player with moderate success in last season's Challenger Series. This year however both have already forced their way into the Indian team.
Hopes then are high for this year's edition of the Challenger as the series precedes and all important Australian tour. The Aussies are coming to India riding on an unbeaten world record of 15 consecutive Test wins. With Kumble unfit for the series, the selectors will no doubt scout around for a suitable replacement. The Challenger series therefore will be looked upon with keen interest.