By Nishad Pai Vaidya
It is game that kicks off India’s domestic season, yet it has been overshadowed by certain bigger events in the recent past. The Irani Trophy 2011 was played in near obscurity as the Champions League T20 (CLT20) ensued in different part of the country. This time around, it would be played under the shadow of the ICC World T20 2012. In fact, the Challenger Trophy – the first domestic one-day competition of the season – would also coincide with the big event. As a result, some of the domestic stars of the previous season wouldn’t get the attention they deserve as they would attempt to make an impression on a slightly bigger platform.
The selectors named the Rest of India squad and the India A and India B sides and there were a few surprises along the way. The inclusion of some of the under-19 players seems to be an inspired move – with a clear eye on the future. Most of the others pick themselves with the weight of their runs and wickets during the last season. However, the inclusion of Yusuf Pathan in the Rest of India side is a bit of a shocker and Sachin Tendulkar’s absence leaves more questions unanswered.
Firstly, Pathan isn’t a player one would expect in a side for the longest version. He has a decent First-class record, but given the fact that one wouldn’t expect him to make a transition to the Test side, the move doesn’t make real sense. Since the senior side would be in Sri Lanka and most of India’s promising batsmen would be away on a tour with India A, it looks like the selectors may have been a little hard-pressed for options. But, keeping the long run in perspective, it would have made more sense to play someone who has done decently well at the First-class level and has the promise to perform in the longer version.
Prior to the announcement of the squad, a lot of people suggested that Tendulkar should play the Irani Trophy fixture. Considering the general opinion that he lacks match practice, the argument made complete sense. After all, with the England and Australia series coming up, he should get enough matches under the belt to be up and running for the challenge. As has been said often, Tendulkar isn’t someone you would expect in a domestic game in the recent years. He will feature in the CLT20 after the World T20, but would that be enough for him to prepare for the sterner tests ahead?
Harmeet Singh’s selection into the Rest of India squad may be the required shot in the arm for his domestic career. Having impressed many during the ICC Under-19 World Cup, it was difficult to digest the fact that he wasn’t a regular fixture in the Mumbai side. The Rest of India call-up is a huge promotion and the Mumbai selectors may take note of this and fast-track his selection into the team. The more First-class experience he gets, the better it would be for his development.
Sandeep Sharma and Baba Aparajith made it to the Challenger Trophy squads and it would be a good learning curve for them. Sharma impressed with his accuracy and discipline and it would be tested when he plays against more senior players. Aparajith’s all-round potential caught the eye and he must continue to hone both skills as he moves into a higher level.
It is good to see the Challenger Trophy getting a revamp and moving along Irani Trophy lines. The traditional NKP Salve Trophy was contested between the three handpicked sides consisting some of India’s best one-day performers. This time around, only two such teams will feature in the tournament, with Bengal, the domestic 50-over champions, being the third side. This would certainly spice up the contest.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)