The Irani Trophy, once India's showcase domestic fixture and season opener is in decline.
Once the springing board for many talented players, this five-day game between the Ranji Trophy winners and the Rest of India team has been reduced to a sideshow by the Champions League.
The neglect could be best seen in how the national selectors messed up last week. While naming the RoI squad, they dropped Jharkhand's Ishank Jaggi on fitness grounds [he was fit].
Then, they picked Delhi's Pawan Suyal, who happened to be recovering from knee surgery. Rubbing salt to wound, the selectors had also misspelt Suyal's name as B Suval, leaving everyone wondering who this player is. You couldn't make this stuff up.
Mumbai Mirror laments the decline of this once-popular match:
Earlier Irani Cup’s popularity was the same as Irani Chai and Khari. With time people forgot the chai as well as the tournament.And the Irani Cup, played between last season’s Ranji trophy Champion Rajasthan and Rest of India (RoI), which gets under way today is a testimony to that. As the RoI sauntered onto the practice arena, the lack of interest or rather discipline was evident in the kit that the Parthiv Patel-led side wore.
Players who had played for India were in their India jerseys, some wore their state association colours while the others wore random t-shirts. Imagine an IPL team without their team colours. Un-professionalism on part of players or careless attitude from the Indian board?
But there was a time when things were more serious. Dilip Vengsarkar, former India captain and national selector remembers the 1975 edition vividly. “Eknath Solkar got injured and I got a chance to play the game. In those days, Irani Cup used to the most important tournament for youngsters.
Bombay had players like Sunil Gavaskar, Ramnath Parkar, Sudhir Naik and Vinoo Mankad playing for them. It was also a time when a lot of Test cricketers from all over used to play club cricket in Mumbai. My club, Dadar Union, had a few of them and I had learned a lot playing with them. So when it came to facing Bishen Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna, I was not too over-awed. I knew this was my chance to get noticed.
We had lost three quick wickets and Mankad and I were the only recognized batsmen. It was slow turner at Nagpur and I slowly gained confidence to reach a ton. Next thing I knew, I was playing for India.”
In the same paper, Deepak Narayanan asks if there's a point to the tournament any more.
Today, the 2011-12 domestic season officially opens with the Irani Cup. One of the most-watched Irani games in recent years was the 2003 clash between Mumbai and Rest of India, which was pretty much the Best of India.
The XI that took on the Ranji champions that year was Bangar, Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, Yuvraj, Parthiv, Kumble, Harbhajan and Balaji. Mumbai, with Sachin, Jaffer, Kambli, Agarkar and Powar in their ranks ran them close, but Dravid and Laxman specials helped Rest chase 340 in the fourth innings of a low-scoring match against an attack that ran out of ideas, but never heart.
The squad picked for this year’s Irani clash has reduced it to a joke. And if this match is, indeed, the stage-setter for the season ahead, we’re in for generous doses of dark humour.
Then, there's Duncan Fletcher, who was expected to attend this year's game between Jaipur and RoI, but has gone missing.
The DNA reports:
The board officials are hoping Fletcher would witness the Irani Trophy match but they have no information from the chief coach. “He has not sounded us out if he would be coming. As of today, he is expected here only in the first week of October,” said a senior board official. The Irani Trophy tie is scheduled to start on October 1 in Jaipur. India’s next international assignment is an ODI series against England which starts in Hyderabad on October 14.
“Ideally, he should be here for the Irani Trophy. It is an important domestic fixture. Please ask the secretary,” said another official without willing to be named. The secretary has no information where the coach is and if he would be here for the important season opener in which all the fringe players would be taking part. “We’re meeting on September 29 to select the team for the Challenger Trophy. Hopefully, we will get to know about his plans then,” said Sanjay Jagdale.