Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have often stepped out in India colours at the PCA Stadium in Mohali, which, once again, becomes a battleground for them, in the midst of the biggest crisis of their respective careers. The Syed Mushtaq Ali — North Zone T20 tournament begins on Tuesday and the former India captains will have an opportunity, possibly their last, to find form before the IPL as none of the teams will have preparatory camps before the IPL commences in the UAE on April 16.
Besides Delhi, which also boast the likes of Ashish Nehra and Ishant Sharma, Punjab will start as strong favourites. Though they will miss Yuvraj Singh, who is playing the World T20, they have skipper Harbhajan Singh available.
The nature of the tournament will be fundamentally altered after the qualifiers, as several players from each team will join their IPL teams on the completion of the zonal stage — the composition of the teams will change considerably.
“That is bound to happen. Its just not Punjab; every team will lose its prime players to IPL. Having said that, this will provide chances to the players sitting on the bench. We have good, young cricketers who are waiting in line for such breaks,” Punjab coach Bhupinder Singh senior told the Indian Express. “Moreover, franchises have spent (a) lot of money on players for (the) IPL. They have full right to get their players in UAE ahead of the tournament.”
Punjab will lose seven players if they qualify for the knockouts. Mandeep Singh, Manan Vohra, Gurkeerat Mann, Sandeep Sharma, Siddharth Kaul, Harbhajan Singh and Rahul Sharma, who form Punjab’s core, will be leaving.
The North Zone leg of the tournament will give Virender Sehwag, in his first season with Kings XI Punjab, a chance to bond with his IPL teammates. Having scored a ton, his first since 2012, while playing a first-class for the MCC in Abu Dhabi, Sehwag will look to get into his rhythm, as will Gambhir.
“We have a good team for this format. Sehwag is feeling fit and playing good. We will decide about his batting slot in the morning. Ishant and Gambhir are also fit,” Delhi coach Sanjeev Sharma said. He added that Ashish Nehra would miss a few matches.
Punjab, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir will participate in this zonal leg. Delhi take on Himachal while Punjab lock horns with Haryana in their respective opening matches.