The Vijay Hazare Trophy 2018-19 has completed a whirlwind first week, with four groups in four separate locations throwing up plenty of action. Here is a snapshot of how the tournament has gone so far:
Prithvi Shaw didn't get a chance to make his Test debut in England, and he has returned as if out to prove the point that he cannot be ignored for too long. In three innings so far, he has made 98 off 66, 60 off 53 and 129 off 81. The last came against Railways in a match Mumbai plundered 400 for 5.
Shreyas Iyer has 310 runs to Shaw's 287, but his strike-rate of 116.10 - normally outstanding in 50-overs cricket - looks positively pedestrian against Shaw's 143.50. Together, the two have driven Mumbai to the top of the Group A table, and well above teams in Group B too (which is important for knockout qualification).
Among the other worthy performers are Ankit Bawne, who hit back-to-back, match-winning, unbeaten centuries for Maharashtra and Ishan Kishan, who smashed a whirlwind 139 for Jharkhand against Assam and followed it with 85 against Tamil Nadu. Himachal Pradesh's Prashant Chopra has been quietly effective as well, hitting more than fifty in each of the three times he has batted.
It's hard to look beyond a bowler who sets a List A world record, and Shahbaz Nadeem's incredible 8 for 10 for Jharkhand has him at the top of the bowling charts, along with Tamil Nadu's Varun Chakravathi. The Group C matches have been played on bowler-friendly pitches, but even then, Nadeem has been exceptional. His economy rate is only 3.83 despite bowling 30 overs.
The Saxena brothers - Jatin and Jalaj - have been impressive too. Chhattisgarh's Jatin has taken wickets at opportune moments, while Kerala's Jalaj has the best economy rate - 2.83 - among the Elite Groups for those who have bowled at least 25 overs. He reserved his best performance against his brother's side, taking 4 for 31 and scoring 58 not out while opening the innings. However, for dinner table conversations, neither brother got the other out.
The game after they were undone by Nadeem, Rajasthan faced Tamil Nadu at the same ground. It seemed like they wouldn't fare much better, being bowled out for 133. And they reached that many because Tajinder Singh made 55 from No.7. Tajinder, who hadn't opened his account when the score was 52 for 6, doubled the score from 66 for 7. It turned out to be almost enough, as Tamil Nadu couldn't string partnerships together. B Anirudh was the top-scorer with 40, but when he was dismissed, Tamil Nadu were 113 for 9. But M Mohammed made an unbeaten 22 from No.10, to sneak his side home by one wicket.
Points to note
Eleven games have been abandoned across groups - three in Group A, three in Group B, two in Group C and two in Plate. Several others have been affected by rain and decided by the VJD method.
The pitches in Chennai, where Group C games are taking place, have been a topic of discussion. They have aided spin heavily and resulted in low-scoring matches. Some venues like Bangalore for Group A, Delhi for Group B, Chennai for Group C, and Vadodara, Nadiad and Anand for Group D were chosen keeping in mind the facility to host multiple matches at once, but the rains haven't helped.
Players to watch
Tamil Nadu's Varun Chakravathi has emerged from the TNPL, and been the joint-highest wicket-taker so far. A mystery spinner who can bowl legbreaks, googlies, offbreaks and carrom balls, Varun has bowled to Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders in the nets. Michael Hussey, who was at the TNPL as a commentator, picked him out as one of the most exciting talents this season.
Akshay Chandran, Kerala's left-arm spinner, made his List A debut in this tournament. He's already taken nine wickets in three matches, and kept his economy rate to 2.91. The 24-year-old has a first-class century too, against Services in Ranji Trophy 2016-17. His batting average in ten first-class games so far is 33.55, and the bowling average is 18.45.
How the newbies have done
The Plate Group made headlines with Puducherry being forced to rejig their team due to objections from the other teams in the group. Their cricket association had been granted special permission by the BCCI to acquire players till late because of factors beyond their control. But the other associations objected, holding that the spirit of the leeway given had been abused. Media reports suggested there was a match in which Puducherry fielded an XI that contained no local players.
Elsewhere, Meghalaya annihilated Arunachal Pradesh by 256 runs, first putting up 317 for 4 and then bowling the opposition out for 61. It was an unhappy crash-landing for Arunachal, who just days earlier had revelled in Samarth Seth becoming the first player from the new sides - who had not played in another state - to score a century, when he hit 107 in a four-wicket win against Mizoram.
Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo