Despite never representing their homeland,the Jamnagar uncle-nephew duo of Ranjitsinghji and Duleepsinghji were the first ones to really put Indian cricket on the map,and it isnt surprising that the two premier tournaments in domestic cricket are named after them. And even though the Ranji Trophy has proved to be the competition that invokes most interest in the Indian domestic cricket calendar,it is the Duleep Trophy that has historically been a stage where the stars come out to play.
The Indian team may be upbeat ahead of a five-match ODI series against Sri Lanka later this month,but what the hastily arranged trip has ensured is that the Duleep Trophy has been rendered without the tag of being a star-studded affair. And so it is the VVS Laxman-led South Zone,only missing Pragyan Ojha,who will be firm favourites for the title as they kick off their campaign on Thursday against a weakened Central Zone.
Well be missing the services of two crucial players,Praveen Kumar and Suresh Raina,both of whom have performed remarkably for Uttar Pradesh, Central captain Mohammad Kaif said,while adding that left-arm fast bowler RP Singh will also miss the opening contest due to injury.
The middle-order batsman will have to bank on his seasoned spin combination of Murali Kartik and Piyush Chawla,while hoping that the young pace-attack led by state-mate Bhuvneshwar Kumar comes to the fore against a formidable batting line-up including Rahul Dravid,Subramanium Badrinath,Robin Uthappa and Laxman.
Laxman said that his team had the perfect balance of experience and youth,and insisted that even the bowling department was shaping up perfectly. The likes of Balaji and Sreesanth have made terrific comebacks after long injury lay-offs,and we also have a couple of good spinners in Ashwin and Suresh , he said.
After a failed attempt at revamping the Duleep Trophy in 2002-03,where the five zonal teams were replaced by five teams based on the then newly introduced Elite and Plate Group divisions in the Ranji Trophy,the tournament had been boosted by the presence of a foreign team the following season. But while the BCCI managed to create space for Indias 14-day visit to Sri Lanka,they somehow didnt show the same efficiency in arranging for the sixth team this time around,and the competition will be played on a knock-out basis for the first time since 1993-94.
The teams to be affected most due to the Lanka series will be West and North,as the 15-member Indian squad includes a total of 11 players from the two zones. While North,who are aiming for a hat-trick of victories,might find their quest difficult to achieve,West will be the most depleted side with seven players away on national duty.
The winners of the clash between Central and South will face the defending champions in Rajkot,and both teams will be looking at the extra match as a blessing in disguise. The number of players representing the country from a particular zone does indicate the dominance of their cricket,and does lead to bragging rights. But,as things stand,South Zone may end up benefiting from the lack of ODI players by having a Duleep Trophy title to brag about in the first week of February.
SQUADS:South zone: VVS Laxman (capt),S Badrinath,Abhinav Mukund,Robin Uthappa,Rahul Dravid,Arjun Yadav,Dinesh Karthik (wk),R Ashwin,L Balaji,Sreesanth,R Vinay Kumar,Saurabh Bandekar,Suresh M,Anoop Pai.
Central zone: Mohammad Kaif (capt),Umesh Yadav,Bhuvneshwar Kumar,Anureet Singh,Robin Bist,Piyush Chawla,Faiz Fazal,Yere Goud,Murali Kartik,Naman Ojha (wk),Pankaj Singh,Parvinder Singh,Jalaj Saxena,Shivakant Shukla,RP Singh,Tanmay Srivastava.