Veteran Cheteshwar Pujara would strive to stay relevant in the national team’s scheme of things with a purposeful knock when Saurashtra clashes with Rest of India, a side that is packed with five specialist openers, in the Irani Cup clash starting .
While Madhya Pradesh are the 2021-22 Ranji Trophy champions, Saurashtra will be playing the Irani Trophy by virtue of being the 2019-20 champions as the one-off match wasn’t held for successive seasons due to COVID-19. Gone are those days when the Rest of India versus Ranji champions’ encounter used to be a virtual national team trial game where a good performance was a sure shot ticket towards an entry into the national dressing room.
An Irani Cup in 2022 is more about being in the scheme of things as far as reserve bench is concerned and majority of the Rest of India squad comprises of players, who have all featured in the recent A series against New Zealand.
The Saurashtra team has a battle-hardened pro in Pujara, whose Test career is at the crossroads and he wouldn’t like to put a foot wrong before the away series in Bangladesh.
He has had a dream run for Sussex in both red ball and white ball (List A) games but whether the selectors will persist with him in Tests going forward is another matter. But on his home ground where he has scored truckloads of runs, Pujara can prove to be more than a handful for the young speed guns like Umran Malik, Kuldeep Sen, Arzan Nagwaswalla or the upcoming spinners namely R Sai Kishore and Saurabh Kumar.
However the primary problem that Rest of India face is having too many openers all in-form in their squad of 15.
There is India ‘A’ pair of Priyank Panchal and Abhimanyu Easwaran that did well against New Zealand ‘A’ while Yashasvi Jaiswal was in regal form in the Duleep Trophy, scoring 265 in the final.
Then there is Test opener Mayank Agarwal who is trying to make a comeback and young Yash Dhull who has scored 770 runs in five first class games in his debut season. Only skipper Hanuma Vihari and in form Sarfaraz Khan are the two specialist batters apart from keeper Kona Bharat.
The Saurashtra bowling attack will be manned by Jaydev Unadkat, a pro in domestic cricket, who is sure to feel short changed on not getting a national call up after 65 wickets in 2019-20 season. There is Chetan Sakariya who will bring the ball back into the right handed batters.
On a slow batting surface, the spinners of both sides will come into play from third day onwards.
Saurashtra: Jaydev Unadkat (Captain), Cheteshwar Pujara, Sheldon Jackson, Arpit Vasavada, Chirag Jani, Kamlesh Makwana, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Prerak Mankad, Chetan Sakariya, Snell Patel, Vishvarajsinh Jadeja, Kushang Patel, Harvik Desai, Samarth Vyas, Parth Bhut, Kishan Parmar.
Rest of India: Hanuma Vihari (Captain), Mayank Agarwal, Priyank Panchal, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Yash Dhull, Sarfaraaz Khan, Yashasvi Jaiswal, K.S.Bharat, Upendra Yadav, Jayant Yadav, Saurabh Kumar, R Sai Kishore, Mukesh Kumar, Umran Malik, Kuldeep Sen, Arzan Nagwaswalla.