(Last week's Irani Trophy kicked off a new domestic season in India. Playing with the reigning Ranji champions Rajasthan, Aakash Chopra will share his experiences on the circuit in a series of posts, exclusively on Yahoo! Cricket. This post is the second in the series.)
Battered and bruised - that's how I'm feeling after getting a serious pounding over five days in the season opener - the Irani trophy. Yes, the match was in Jaipur - our home ground and yes, the Rest of India team wasn't as strong a team as it could've possibly been, yet it did little to change the outcome of the game.
First things first, the track at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium was prepared under the watchful eyes of the Chairman of the Pitch committee - Venkat Sundram. The thought behind supervising the pitch preparation was to avoid the repeat of last year's Irani trophy tie at the same venue. Back then, the track was as flat as a pancake, forgive the cliche, and thousands of runs were scored over five days. Rest of India came out victorious from that encounter but not before Mumbai raised a stink about the quality of the surface. A year ago losing the toss meant losing the match, for there wasn't a strand of grass on the 22 yards. Mumbai lost the toss and, with it, the match too.
365 days later, the track wore a completely different look. Till 72 hours before the start of the match one could not differentiate the playing strip from the rest of the outfield. It was lush green with plenty of moisture underneath to ensure that the green grass didn’t become brown. We, Rajasthan, have always relied on pace to skittle the opposition and hence weren't complaining too much. Yet, we couldn't ignore the fact that the likes of Umesh Yadav, Vinay Kumar and Varun Aaron were to bowl on the same track too. Also, we were without the services of our lead bowler - Pankaj Singh. Could we mow some of the grass please, we quipped.
If the toss was important a year ago, it felt equally important this year too, albeit for completely different reasons. It surely looked like win-the-toss-and-field-first-surface. We lost the toss but Parthiv surprised one and sundry by electing to bat. His decision may have been influenced by their Team Coach/Manager - Raja Venkat, who also happens to the national selector. After Indian team's dismal show in swinging and seaming English conditions the thought must have been to test the fringe players in similar conditions, result be damned. Noble thought, I must say. Unfortunately for the young rookie bowlers in our side, this meant learning the most important lesson, rather harshly - that a half volley is a half volley in all conditions. We dished out far too many of those and were duly dispatched to the fence. Not taking anything away from the Rest of India batsmen, for they were brilliant throughout.
CL - T20 vs Irani
Is all of this making you feel that a lot of thought has gone behind conducting the Irani trophy and that it is one of the most important matches of the season? Well, I'd say think again. C'mon, if we were so serious about testing the people who're going to play for India in the longer format, we would've have held the Irani Trophy time at a time when it wouldn't be clashing with the Champions League. If we were looking at life beyond Harbhajan Singh in Test match cricket, R Ashwin should have played for Rest of India and not Chennai Super kings. The same goes for Murali Vijay or Virat Kohli. Their T20 credentials are second to none, but if they're our future Test cricketers, which I think that they are, shouldn't they be playing in the longer format more often?
Where's the logic?
Besides this, there was something else too that caught my eye - the baffling selections for the team that made ROI. Left-arm fast bowler Prasanth Parameswaran from Kerala along with Pawan Suyal from Delhi were picked in the initial squad of 15. When selectors came to know about Suyal's injury, Vinay Kumar was drafted into the team. Now, commonsense tells me that Parmeswaran along with Suyal were the first choice pacer and Vinay Kumar only a replacement for an injured player. But it was Vinay who made it to the final XI, while a fit Parmeswaran warmed the benches. If Vinay was a better prospect for the Indian test team, in comparison to Parmeswaran, then why wasn't he picked in the first place? And if Parameswaram was better then why wasn't he played in the XI? Perhaps, Parameswaram's first-class statistics weren't impressive enough to get him the nod for the playing XI. But then didn't we trivialise the importance of Irani Trophy by picking him?
The same goes for another player - Rahul Sharma. He'd played 10
first-class matches for 16 wickets before getting picked for the Rest of
India team. Are we grooming him for the longer format? If yes, then on
what basis and if no, then why was he picked for the Rest of India team?
A young spinner in our team quietly reminded me that he had taken 23 wickets in 10 first-class matches so far and that he too could be in line for playing for the Rest of India next season. Or perhaps, for Team India in the next series?
PS: The point of bring up these issues isn't an attempt to draw attention away from our defeat...we know that we need to learn. We shall.
Also in this series: