Ordinarily the team picked for the Irani Trophy shouldn’t excite anybody. Readers over the years will be aware that I don’t particularly care much for the tournament because a group of people that don’t really belong to the team they are representing aren’t going to carry much feeling. A “Rest of India” team has no history, no common bond, no ferocious desire to succeed as a team. It is each one playing for his own performance and that is something we need to avoid.
If there is anything that could be said in favour of it at all, it is that it is being played at the end of the Ranji Trophy season and not seven or eight months after when form would have ceased to have relevance. So, in a sense this is an acknowledgment that some have had a better season than others and that, maybe, the selectors are looking at them a bit more closely. That is all, no more!
Looked at from that point of view, a couple of selections are interesting. Having looked beyond Gautam Gambhir for a year (including in limited overs cricket where he has been a match winner), the selectors have told him that all is not lost. With India’s struggles at the top of the order, it could well have been forced on them though with a player of Gambhir’s pedigree and experience, one match is unlikely to tell you too much more than you already know. In any case he should be on the tour to England, where ironically his decline began, as the third opener.
Harbhajan Singh is the more debatable selection. In his last few appearances for India he looked lost, that wonderful loop that caused the ball to hit top of the bat had vanished and he was being outbowled by players of lesser natural ability. Maybe he was insecure and therefore trying to produce a result with every ball (and therefore losing patience which is a spinner’s identity). And in Indian conditions, Ashwin, Ojha and Jadeja were winning matches consistently. It didn’t seem you needed to look back at Harbhajan, especially with Parvez Rasool almost demanding to be picked.
But the selectors have gone to a man who has taken over 400 wickets, a man who once elicited a “wow” from everyone who saw him. But yesterday’s reputation doesn’t count for much today so is this a selection based on hope, based on Ashwin’s modest overseas test record or have they seen something from him again? That is one more thing to watch out for at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.
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It is nice to see young Jiwanjot Singh of Punjab get a game. He was excellent last season and, as often happens, the season immediately after poses greater challenges as people figure out where to bowl to you. Watch him closely, as you must the very exciting Lokesh Rahul of Karnataka. These two seem to have inched ahead of Unmukt Chand who has illustrated why you must always wait and see how an under 19 star goes when he plays one level higher. Rahul is the by-product of a lot of good that has happened there in recent times with younger players getting a whole season. Karun Nair is the other beneficiary and the buzz around HS Sharath is very positive.
But I hope the selectors are watching out for a few others from Karnataka who have had good seasons. There is something about Robin Uthappa this year and there has always been a touch of class about Manish Pandey. He scores hundreds in big games and takes catches that, at first class level, don’t always get attempted. I was also happy to see Abhimanyu Mithun get wickets. In the couple of Tests he played, he looked a big hearted third seamer.
But all this will mean little if you get a dead, batting track at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. It is a match that can only be relevant if there is a good contest between bat and ball and far too often these games end up becoming a waste of time otherwise. The pitches have been good so far but I hope they are not already getting into IPL mode! I suspect though that some players will have an eye on the auction next door!