Among the many domestic tournaments that are a part of the regular cricket season in India, the Duleep Trophy is one competition that has drawn flak from former Indian cricketers and pundits alike. "The domestic calendar needs to be reworked. A couple of tournaments may have to be done away with like Duleep, Deodhar and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophies. They all are not serving any purpose," said Aakash Chopra earlier this year. But this edition of the Duleep Trophy has certainly painted a different story. Optimistically, it has thrown up a few names that could well be answers to India’s conundrums in the Test arena.
The rise of Shikhar Dhawan
Shikhar Dhawan was a well-known name even before the commencement of the Indian Premier League (IPL). His heroics in the domestic circuit ensured that he bagged an IPL contract with the Delhi Daredevils in the very first season. His contributions continued to be noteworthy thereafter, and it helped him don the national colours for a brief period of time in the limited-overs format. However, he hit a lean patch and found it difficult to get going ever since.
But his recent performances have suggested that he could well be an answer to India’s woes at the top of the order. According to statistician Mohandas Menon, Dhawan's scores, in all forms of the game, in the last nine innings are as follows: 85, 100*, 80, 99*, 152, 61, 101, 50 and 121. In the ongoing Duleep Trophy, Dhawan has played three innings that have produced two centuries and a fifty, at an impressive average of 90.66.
The fact that India’s premier openers Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag have struggled in Tests, especially overseas, since the last couple of years, has been worrisome. Considering Dhawan’s consistency during recent times, it may augur well to try him at that slot during the upcoming series against England. But will the selectors be bold enough to make such a move?
It’s Gambhir’s form in Tests that has been more perplexing. While Sehwag has averaged 35.68 in the last one year, Gambhir has struggled to get the scale above 27.50. At 31.62, the average gets slightly better at home, but still remains uncharacteristic for a top-order batsman. On the other hand, Sehwag has averaged an impressive 46.62 at home since last October. So going by the numbers, there is a possibility that Dhawan could pip Gambhir for a spot in the side.
Return of Yuvraj Singh and Ishant Sharma
While Duleep Trophy’s importance can be endlessly debated, it has been extremely beneficial to the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Ishant Sharma this year. Yuvraj, recovering from a rare germ cell cancer, has made a resounding comeback in the shortest version of the game for India, but is yet to prove his fitness in the longer formats. The fact that he registered a century in his very first outing in a four-day game is a positive sign. Hyderabad has been a happy-hunting ground, and this could just be the shot in the arm he needs.
Ishant Sharma, too, has looked in commendable shape and has played a crucial role in North Zone’s road to the semi-finals. "I think I am mentally and physically much stronger now after having gone through the worst phase of my life," said Ishant. It’s important that he carries this confidence forward, since it’s well known that he can be a huge asset to India’s currently frail bowling department. His 4 for 29 against West Zone, including wickets of Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, has certainly helped make a strong statement before the squad for the Test against England is announced. Alongside Zaheer Khan – bound to spearhead India’s attack, and Irfan Pathan – who seems to have found his rhythm back, Ishant can certainly add value to the Indian bowling line-up.
Will any of these three make it to the squad?
With the squad for the first Test against England at Ahmedabad set to be announced soon, one gets the feeling that Dhawan, Yuvraj and Ishant have done their bit to get noticed. While Gambhir and Sehwag may get one more opportunity to make their presence felt at the top of the order, Yuvraj and Ishant by all means could get the nod. However, Ishant’s inclusion could also be subjected to the condition of the pitch, and if it’s going to be a spinning track, then he’ll have to wait a tad bit longer.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/