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MUMBAI: Discards and perpetual outsiders will gain another chance to catapult themselves into national reckoning as Ranji Trophy winners Mumbai take on a strong Rest of India side for the Irani Cup at the Wankhede Stadium, beginning Wednesday.
This will be second Irani Cup game this season, a move necessitated by a new schedule that dictates the tie to be held at the conclusion of the domestic season rather than at its commencement. Rest of India had thrashed last-year’s Ranji winners Rajasthan by an innings at Bangalore in September, the beginning of the domestic calendar.
In this edition, Rest will be led by Virender Sehwag – currently out of ODIs for India – and include names such as off-spinner Harbhajan Singh and fast bowler S. Sreesanth, both of whom would be pressing hard for a decent performance that pushes their case for representing the country.
After being sidelined for the England ODIs, Sehwag will be seeking some form before the Australia Tests, while Harbhajan will look to make good on the sorry run that his chief competitor R. Ashwin seems to be on.
Harbhajan failed to impress on his return for two Tests against England – and was subsequently dropped. It remains to be seen what Sreesanth’s long injury-enforced absence from cricket has done to his bowling ability.
Rest also have openers Shikhar Dhawan and M. Vijay, who was part of the India squad but did not get a game against England in the home Tests. Vijay has the singular honour of plundering the highest individual score in the history of the event – 266 versus Rajasthan in last-year’s edition at Bangalore.
Either opener can stake a claim for inclusion against Australia with a telling performance, since Gautam Gambhir has been struggling across formats. Suresh Raina, in stupendous form in the shorter formats, and the constantly unlucky Manoj Tiwary will add beef to Rest’s middle order.
The curious will also have an eye upon fast bowlers Shami Ahmed and Ishwar Pandey and whether they are deserving of a national slot in the upcoming season. Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha will have to assert himself on the contest after petering out against England late last year.
In the absence of the injured Ajit Agarkar (groin strain), Mumbai will be led on their home ground by the prolific all-rounder Abhishek Nayar, who had a grand day at Sunday’s IPL auction and was purchased by Pune Warriors for a humungous fee.
The responsibility comes to Nayar ahead of veteran compiler Wasim Jaffer, 34, who had last played a Test for India over five years ago against South Africa in Kanpur, and is the second-highest accumulator in Irani Trophy, behind the legendary G. Viswanath.
Others of interest in the Mumbai line-up include opener Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma. Rahane had a mediocre time in ODIs against England, while Sharma too had sporadic bouts of success amid a plethora of failures.
Sachin Tendulkar, having called it quits from ODIs, will also be in the thick of things. He will be looking forward to some more match practice ahead of the Australia series. Tendulkar was with Mumbai all through their knock-out phase in the Ranji Trophy this year before an unfortunate run-out in the final against Saurashtra curtained his participation.
Mumbai’s bowling, on a helpful Wankhede track, will be spearheaded by fast bowler Dhawal Kulkarni, who played a pivotal role in the semifinal and final for the Ranji champions.
Mumbai: Ajit Agarkar (Capt.), Sachin Tendulkar, Wasim Jaffer, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Suryakumar Yadav, Dhaval Kulkarni, Kaustubh Pawar, Abhishek Nayar, Hiken Shah, Aditya Tare, Ankit Chavan, Javed Khan, Shardul Thakur and Vishal Dabholkar.
Rest of India: Virender Sehwag (Capt.), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Manoj Tiwary, Suresh Raina, Wriddhiman Saha, Harbhajan Singh, S Sreesanth, Pragyan Ojha, Ishwar Pandey, Abhimanyu Mithun, Ambati Rayudu, Shami Ahmed and Jalaj Saxena.