India’s opening combination in Tests, always under the scanner, is presently being examined with an electron microscope. Virender Sehwag, for all his massive impact, has been inconsistent of late. Gautam Gambhir, despite maintaining a respectable average, has not inspired any confidence. This means the way is clear for at least one experimental change at the top of the order. So, who will it be? Will it be Ajinkya Rahane, who displaced Sehwag in ODIs and batted fluently for 83 in the Irani Cup fixture? Will M Vijay’s hundred for Rest of India against a mediocre Mumbai attack throw him into realistic reckoning despite a horrible domestic season? It rankles a few that the batsman who deserves a look-in – Punjab opener Jiwanjot Singh, the season-aggregate topper – is not at the Wankhede. Jiwanjot, however, is part of India 'A' that will take on the touring Aussies in Chennai. There is a case too for Wasim Jaffer, ever-consistent and easy on the eye on the domestic circuit, but touching 35 now.
While aspirants are vying for coveted Test spots, there is someone who squanders yet another chance to make the cut. Rohit Sharma, having ended his terrible run with a match-winning ODI knock against England at Mohali, is expected to make it count in the Irani Cup and lend weight to his suitability to classical cricket. But the ‘talented’ Mumbai batsman is likely to wait more for a maiden Test cap. After playing out eleven balls without scoring, Rohit decides to slog-sweep a Harbhajan Singh top-spinner and hits to Pragyan Ojha at deep-midwicket. A 12-ball duck in a match of some import ahead of a vital home series – the 25-year-old is not going to find himself in India whites anytime soon. Unless he excels against Australia in their practice match versus India 'A', to which he has also been selected.
The cops on duty behind the sight screen choose the wrong time, and the wrong batsman, to take their morning chat to the front. The policemen gambol around the white shield as Sachin Tendulkar is steadying himself at the crease, leading to great discontent in the great man. The bowler drops away in delivery stride as Tendulkar straightens himself from his stance and shoots a withering glare straight ahead. The offending personnel are yanked hurriedly back from view by colleagues. A few overs later, another khakhi-clad figure trespasses mindlessly onto the forbidden area. This time the ball is completed without interruption for the batsman on strike, Ajinkya Rahane, is not as perturbed by the surroundings as his illustrious partner.
Statistics aren't everything. S. Sreesanth’s performance on the third day of the Irani Cup is a case in point. The maverick speedster, returning from toe injury, tests Tendulkar with a series of short deliveries all through. Deep into the second session, a ball rears ominously from mid pitch but fails to gain the expected height, grazing an evading Tendulkar’s shoulder on its way to the ‘keeper. The great man responds with an off-drive speared on the up, going to 99 with the shot. The next delivery is tucked to fine leg for a couple as the partially filled stands rise in unison. But leg byes are signaled and Tendulkar has to wait for Sreesanth’s next for his hundred – his 81st in first class cricket. There is jubilation all around, in which even Harbhajan Singh and Suresh Raina join. Sreesanth meanwhile has figures of 1/80 in 21 overs, a poor indicator of the effort he puts in.
This is a contest neither team will want to win. But not for want of trying. Mumbai concede 27 extras in the first innings, the chief culprit being Shardul Thakur, who single-handedly contributes five no-balls and three huge wides. Rest are not to be left behind. Their bowlers are seen overstepping by a long way in nets and the match is no different. They go one-up on Mumbai and distribute 28 extras, with S. Sreesanth – six no-balls – the runaway offender. As a result of all the surplus deliveries, Rest are lagging well behind the over rate. Just 54 overs are bowled in the first two sessions, and the nine minutes after resumption from lunch allow for just six balls. The tardiness extends play up to 5 p.m. and yet 90 overs for the day remains a distant dream. Nobody really cares, though.
- Report/Scores: Mumbai fight back after Raina’s hundred
- Sidelights: Harbhajan’s losing streak, and waiting for Sachin
- I wanted to score heavily: Raina
- Report/Scores: Vijay hits hundred
- Sidelights: Trainspotting, Sehwag’s Delhi belly and Vijay’s luck
- Vijay happy to be back in runs