Harbhajan Singh © Getty Images
Harbhajan Singh will be looking to make his mark in the Irani Cup game against Karnataka © Getty Images

 

Rest of India and Karnataka take on each other for the Irani Cup at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore. Nishad Pai Vaidya reports from ground zero…

 

With an air of hope, the players of the Rest of India (ROI) squad trained at the nets behind the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore; preparing to take on Karnataka in the Irani Cup. While players such as Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh and Dinesh Karthik were the major star attractions, Ankit Bawne, Kedar Jadhav and Parvez Rasool would be the other players looking to make a mark. This is a great platform for such players, one where they can make a statement with the selectors keeping a close eye. It is after all ‘The Best vs the Rest.”

 

Harbhajan, the ROI captain and coach Lalchand Rajput have a few tough choices to make. After all, they have some of the best domestic performers and a few Indian internationals at their disposal. If one looks at the bowling department, ROI are spoilt for choices. Varun Aaron, Ashok Dinda, Pankaj Singh and Anureet Singh make up the pacers. Harbhajan, Amit Mishra and all-rounder Rasool are the spinning options. To pick four or five out of this roster is tough and ROI may first look at getting their batting line-up right.

  

Gautam Gambhir is set to open the batting and he remains on the selectors radar. Jiwanjot Singh, the Punjab opener also seems to be a frontrunner to open the innings with Gambhir. Harbhajan praised Jiwanjot, while talking to the media after practice on Saturday, “Jiwanjot is a very good player, got a good temperament, bats session by session and likes to grind the bowlers. He is still new, has shown the ability and I’m sure one day he will open for India. He has the technique and mindset for an opener.”

 

There are some questions over the No 3 spot as Bawne, Natraj Behara and Baba Aparajith are the contenders. In all likelihood, it looks like Aparajith may get the nod as Bawne has batted majorly in the middle-order for Maharashtra. Behara is an opener and more of a backup for Gambhir and Jiwanjot. At No 4, you have the season’s highest run-scorer, Kedar Jadhav. He was the go-to man for Maharashtra and is someone who could force the issue. At No 4, he would form the fulcrum of the batting line-up.

 

Then we have another toss-up in the middle. If Bawne or Aparajith do not get a spot at the top, they would get in at No 5. But, there is also a Mandeep Singh, who can be aggressive at that spot and he will compete for that spot. Dinesh Karthik, the wicketkeeper would be at No 6. And then, we move into the dilemma zone.

 

Rasool has had a great all-round season and there is a temptation to play him at No 7. Although he bats at No 4 for Jammu and Kashmir, he is more of a bowling all-rounder in national representative sides. Plus, his off-spin can be quite handy and he can form a good partnership with Harbhajan. However, Mishra is also in the ranks and he would be searching for some form. He has been with the Indian side for months and has spent a major chunk on the sidelines. Being the more senior player, he can come in at No 7 as he is a decent batsman.

 

Given the nature of the pitch at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, ROI have to play three seamers on what seems to be a green surface. As a result, Dinda, Pankaj and Aaron may get the nod as they are Indian internationals and Anureet may have to bide his time for an opportunity. Coach Rajput is keeping his cards close to his chest and didn’t reveal the likely combination when asked by the media. “We will let you know tomorrow. We have got four pacers; we will select the best three,” Rajput said.

 

Traditionally, the Irani Cup was a season opener, but now it closes the First-Class leg. Thus, the winning team comes in with a momentum, yet it is a tough task to beat ROI. This game is important on many counts. “It is a big game for each and every one of us. If we all perform, it helps the team’s cause,” declared Harbhajan.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)