It was said with assurance before the Ranji Trophy final that Mumbai would come up trumps against Saurashtra. However, the same may not be said in the Irani Cup tie where the best of Mumbai take on the best among the rest in a five-day game starting at the Wankhede on Wednesday.
Despite the presence of Sachin Tendulkar, hosts Mumbai — boosted by the arrival of Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma — will have to sweat it out against a hungry Rest of India outfit. Each member of the RoI squad would be keen on excelling here in order to retain/regain his place in the Test side for the forthcoming four-match series against the Aussies.
The Irani Cup offers a platform for the fringe players to prove they are ready for the next level and for the established but out-of-form ones to regain lost ground.
What else can you say about a 102-Test veteran like Virender Sehwag? The opener has scored only one century (117 in the first Test against England at Ahmedabad) and three 40-plus scores in the last 10 Test innings. He desperately needs a big one here.
Also hoping to do well are M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina and Manoj Tiwary, who will play his first big match after being injured in December, Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh.
However, the focus will be on the speedsters. Madhya Pradesh’s Ishwar Pandey, who topped the Ranji charts with 48 wickets, may find it difficult to make the XI. RoI have the likes of S Sreesanth, back after multiple surgeries on the toes, Abhimanyu Mithun and Mohammad Shami.
Shami will be the cynosure. The Bengal pacer has done well in domestic as well as ODI cricket. Bengal coach WV Raman said, “The Irani Cup will be a good platform for Shami to establish his credentials in the longer duration. He will be watched by a lot of people who matter. Bowling for your state team in Ranji Trophy and zone in Duleep Trophy may not attract too many eyeballs. The Irani Cup is a platform where he will have almost the entire fraternity watching with interest. It is a good game for him to show what he can do in duration games.”
With Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav out due to injury and Ishant Sharma no longer the force he once was, a good show from Sreesanth, Mithun and Shami will only make the selectors’ job challenging. “Mithun and Sreesanth are not unknown commodities. In the case of Shami, with him being part of the ODI side, they (selectors) need some assurance he can be drafted in to the Test side as well. This will be a clincher for him,” Raman added.
Thumbs-up for wicket
The last time India played a Test at the Wankhede, they succumbed to the guile of Monty Panesar who took 11 wickets in the match. The last time a first-class game was played here, Dhaval Kulkarni snaffled nine wickets to bowl Mumbai to an innings victory in just three days against Saurashtra in the Ranji final. So, how will the pitch prepared for the Irani Cup tie behave? “There is some grass here. The red soil aids bounce. It is a true wicket. For the first couple of days, it will seam and move around. It offers good carry. Spinners need to be very consistent with their line because of the bounce. It’s a challenging wicket. It is not that if the batsmen is set, he cannot be dismissed. From my experience, it is a very good pitch,” Harbhajan Singh said.
Long journey, but it’s worth it
Nitin Mujumdar is a full-time LIC agent based in Nashik. He’s also contributes to a Marathi magazine. Wait, there’s more to the man. He’s a big fan of Sachin Tendulkar. He travelled all the way from Nashik with his priceless collection of Tendulkar’s father’s photographs taken at a book release function in Mumbai almost two decades ago.
With a digital camera hanging around his shoulders, Mujumdar was eagerly waiting for Tendulkar. As Mujumdar started showing his album to Tendulkar, the batting legend took him to the dressing room. The two spent about 15 minutes there. Tendulkar even gave his autograph and posed for photographs. “My life is made,” said a beaming Mujumdar.
What customary pre-match talk?
Rest of India captain Virender Sehwag decided to skip the customary pre-match press briefing. “I’m not talking. I’ve not received instructions to talk to the media,” Sehwag said. Thankfully, Mumbai skipper Abhishek Nayar did’. Harbha-jan Singh obliged the media later.