Domestic cricket’s new season in India gets under way with NKP Salve Challenger Trophy on 26th September. Hundreds of first class cricketers will kick-start their long six month journey (without even considering IPL, which will start sometime in April’14), crisscrossing the length and breadth of the country.
So how important is Indian Domestic Cricket? For the keen followers of the Indian cricket, it holds immense significance. Going by the current senior selection committee’s approach it seems that gone are the days’ when hard toil on domestic circuit held no importance. One look at the India “A”squads selected for the unofficial Tests against South Africa in July or more recently the home series against New Zealand A & West Indies and your belief becomes stronger that domestic performers are surely rewarded.
An astonishing, 43 players have been selected for seven “A” team Tests against these three teams, in a span of last three months which goes to show that not only India has young hopefuls knocking on the doors of the Indian Test team, but also those who have done well in domestic season last year have got their opportunities. Out of these 43, how many graduate to the senior team or how many stars on the decline make a comeback is a different matter but for all of them this domestic season is hugely important to stay in the radar of the selection committee.
Here’s a look at some of the players for whom this domestic season holds great importance:
Dropped from the Test side late last year and ODI’s subsequently, Gambhir did the right thing to fly to UK and play for Essex in the closing stages of County Championship. He’s got a shot in the arm after being selected for India A to play West Indies. If he is able to get back in form, Gambhir certainly has a good 3-4 years of cricket left in him at international level and in the immediate future, might just get the ticket to South Africa (if that tour happens) and/or to New Zealand.
The man who single-handedly won the 2011 World Cup for India fought the biggest battle of his life after that. A fairy tale comeback post cancer treatment followed the gloomy days out of the Indian team. Arguably one of the greatest limited overs cricketer India has produced, Yuvraj has surprisingly failed to have same impact in the longest format of the game. Back from a six week long stint with Tim Exeter in France, Yuvraj seems hungry to regain his spot back in the Indian team. Whether that hunger translates into runs and wickets for him to earn that spot back is what all his fans will be eagerly following this season.
Along with Yuvraj, Zaheer Khan too underwent six week training in France and by his own admission has come back a few kilos lighter. Further to sharpen his cricketing skills, Zaheer has flown to Cape Town to train under Gary Kirsten. At 34, Zaheer Khan might not have too many years left but if fitness and form permit, he can be an important member of the Indian team to mentor the young seamers, especially with three to four away tours in India’s calendar in next 15 months.
Virender Sehwag, one of the most destructive modern day batsman not so long ago, has struggled badly in last few years. Once upon a time, his name on the team sheet was enough to send shivers down the spine of bowlers around the world but off late he has given more headaches to his own team management instead of opposition’s. His selection in India A might just be a break that he needs to get back to his old run scoring ways.
Had it not been for a last minute injury, Rohit Sharma would have had made his Test debut against South Africa in Nagpur in 2010. But as fate would have it, that Test cap is still eluding him even after 102 ODI appearances. However, this season holds great importance for this talented Mumbaikar, since Sachin Tendulkar might retire from Test cricket, leaving a gap in the Indian batting line-up. A few strong performances in domestic season and Rohit Sharma can leap frog his way past a few of his peers like Rahane and Raina into the Test team.
Suresh Raina and Ajinkya Rahane
These are two other contenders for that one spot in the Indian middle order .While Suresh Raina has not been able to cement his Test place despite 17 appearances, Rahane’s case is a little different. He got an opportunity after a long wait on the bench but he squandered it away albeit on a square turning Kotla pitch. Purely on the basis of continuity, Rahane should get a fair run but with so many good young batsmen in the domestic circuit vying for a place in the Test team, only big runs can influence the five wise men of Indian cricket.
MS Dhoni has been quite vocal in expressing his displeasure at the lack of a seam bowling all-rounder in India. Irfan Pathan is an option that he would like to have more often, especially, when the team travels overseas. But unfortunately injuries have been Pathan’s closest companion.
His selection in India A and for India Red in Challenger trophy, would show give us an account of his fitness and it would be interesting to see if he can remain injury free this entire season.
Besides some of these known names, there are a few young men like Unmukt Chand, Vijay Zol, Parvez Rasool, Sanju Samson, Jaydev Unadkat and Ishwar Pandey, whose performances will be keenly watched. Post the IPL saga, there was much to rejoice for an Indian cricket fan with victories in the ICC Champions trophy, tri-series in the West Indies and ODI series in Zimbabwe by a young Indian team.
However, it also raises plenty of expectation for the followers of Indian Cricket. If only, the season could had started on clean and transparent note instead of the shady investigation report of the IPL Scandal but that wishful thinking can be left to debate for some another day.