Gautam Gambhir © Getty Images
Gautam Gambhir scored 167 from 242 balls for North Zone against Central Zone © Getty Images (File photo)

With the Indian domestic season starting, all eyes will be on the fringe players and those vying for a comeback to the national side. Three matches into the Duleep Trophy, Shiamak Unwalla makes a few observations about what the tournament has churned out so far.

1. Dhawal Kulkarni is a bankable pacer: With an eye on the ICC World Cup 2015, India has made a number of sometimes shocking, sometimes questionable, and sometimes safe decisions in terms of team selection in recent times. Kulkarni was taken to England, where he got a game, and included in the squad for the practice matches for India A against West Indies, in which he bowled well. However, he does not seem to be in the scheme of things at the moment.

In the match between East Zone and West Zone, Kulkarni was one of the few bright spots for West, with seven wickets in the match. He proved yet again that he is a bankable option who may not be express pace, but can sustain pressure from one end. With 188 wickets in 59 First-Class matches, Kulkarni keeps showing his class but continues to be overlooked.

2. Naman Ojha is ready for the big league: In his last three First-Class games, Naman Ojha has scores of 219 not out and 101 not out, 110 — all for India A against Australia A — and 217 and 40 for Central Zone against North Zone; 687 runs at an average of 229.

Ojha made his ODI and T20 debuts in India’s disappointing tour of Zimbabwe in 2010 in a Triangular series also involving Sri Lanka. Since then he has been overlooked for national duty as consistently as he has scored runs. He was drafted in as cover for Wriddhiman Saha in India’s tour of England earlier this year, but didn’t get even a practice match. With his double hundred against North Zone, Ojha has shown that he deserves to be considered for national duty as much as Saha does.

3. Kuldeep Yadav isn’t too bad at First-Class cricket: When Kuldeep was called up to the Indian team for the ODI series against West Indies, one of the first objections raised by critics was that he had no First-Class experience.

Kuldeep took three important wickets in North Zone’s first innings — Yuvraj Singh, Nitin Saini, and Rishi Dhawan — to announce himself in the longer version of the game. What was also quite heartening to see was his batting skills; he scored 21 and 56 in either innings for Central Zone. This could work in his favour if the battle for the third spinner’s slot — which currently seems to be a four-way battle between Amit Mishra, Akshar Patel, Karn Sharma and Kuldeep — also takes all-round skills into consideration.

4. Gautam Gambhir still has some fight left in him: When Gautam Gambhir failed miserably on his Test comeback, he was written off as having played his last match for India. But being the scrapper that he is known to be, Gambhir could yet prove his critics wrong.

Faced with a daunting total of 538 against Central Zone, Gambhir led from the front in North Zone’s reply with commanding innings of 167 off 242 balls. He was the fourth man out, with the score on 330 when he departed. That North could only manage 127 more runs after his dismissal shows how valuable his innings was.

5. Robin Uthappa is a possible opening option for India: Robin Uthappa has rarely had luck on his side. He was forced to become a middle-order batsman for India when opening was clearly his forte, and was dropped despite putting in some good performances only to be forgotten about.

He then completely reinvented his batting technique and forced his way back to the side for the ODI series against Bangladesh earlier this year. He was dropped despite getting a good fifty in tough conditions. When Rohit Sharma got injured, he was overlooked in favour of Murali Vijay, whose ODI record is far from impressive.

Uthappa scored a tremendous 120 against East Zone on one a devious wicket. That he scored more than East Zone did in either innings is evidence of how difficult the conditions were and how well he batted.

6. Stuart Binny is a remarkable asset on helpful tracks: India’s search for a quality fast-bowling all-rounder has continued since Kapil Dev retired from the sport. India’s only such all-rounder at this point is Stuart Binny, who seems to lack the faith of Indian skipper MS Dhoni.

However, Binny has proven on the international stage that he is capable of turning a match with both bat and ball. He became the man who now holds the Indian record for best bowling in an ODI with his spell of six for four against Bangladesh earlier this year. He then scored a tremendous 78 on Test debut that helped save the match for India.

On a dastardly wicket where the ball was seaming around, Binny proved to be nigh unplayable in both innings. He finished with match figures of seven for 47 in 22 overs to rout East Zone. In doing so, he demonstrated yet again that he can be a very difficult bowler to face on seaming tracks. The pitches in Australia and New Zealand could aid his bowling given overhead conditions, and he could prove to be an asset in India’s World Cup defence.

(Shiamak Unwalla, a reporter with CricketCountry, is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic. You can follow him on Twitter @ShiamakUnwalla)