Ranji Champions on the go
The Irani trophy game between Mumbai (Ranji Champions 2012-13) and Rest Of India being played at Wankhede stadium is significant for the current Indian cricket scenario, for various reasons.
Firstly, the last time Mumbai won the Irani Trophy was way back in 1997-98, when a 24 year old Sachin Tendulkar was at his peak and when it was still politically correct to use the term ‘Bombay’. Since then, Mumbai have lost 6 straight times to the ROI team, most recently in 2010-11 before Rajasthan won the Ranji trophy consecutively, and went on to be routed by ROI twice in a row. ROI have won the Irani cup 23 times outright out of 51 occasions, and Mumbai have won 15 times since its inception in 1985.
No pain, no gain
Mumbai have headed into this most recent meeting after a Ranji season where old horses Agarkar, Tendulkar and Jaffer dominated the Ranji season- with Rohit Sharma and Rahane proving to be domestic giants again.
The other reason why this Irani cup tie is significant is because of the current dismal state of Indian Test Cricket. The Irani cup competitions are normally held as calling-cards for in-form batsmen/bowlers for vacant Indian test spots, a final reminder to the selectors before a long Home Summer season begins.
In less than a month, the equally inconsistent Australian cricket team will be here for 4 test matches and 5 ODIs. Though young and erratic, and despite recently losing both their test wings Ponting and Hussey in a month- this Australian team is far from weak, and could blow away their opposition on their day.
And because it is a Home series for India, a lot of attention has been given to recent Ranji form and this important Irani Cup Tie that pits the best of domestic cricket against eachother. It gives every single test hopeful a final chance to prove their mettle- and to claim some blatantly vacant test spots in the offering- a far cry from the days when the Indian middle order was more settled than an investment banker.
Home Specialist Raina
As we speak, ROI have piled on over 500 runs in the first innings- with test aspirants Vijay and Raina scoring centuries, and perpetual bridesmaid Manoj Tiwary scoring 37.
The players in the reckoning are-
Virender Sehwag, who must prove that his ODI exit will only make him more consistent as a test opener. But the Delhi opener pulled out on the eve of the match, handing over a spot to Murali Vijay- who duly defied his terrible Ranji season form to score another century in an Irani Cup match. His average is bradmanisque in these big games, much like his average in the final two games of every IPL season. If there was ever a big-match player in the true sense of the word- that he even makes sure to fail miserably beforehand- it is this man Vijay.
With Gambhir woefully out of form, even Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane are in the running for these spots- both of whom have decent score in the match already. But the main man, once again, is Wasim Jaffer, whose performances can certainly not be ignored anymore after another insanely prolific Ranji season. He is closing in on another century by the end of the 3rd day of play in Mumbai.
Murali Vijay practicing for IPL 2013
Then there are the middle-order aspirants Rohit Sharma (yet to bat), Captain Abhishek Nayar (who could be Dhoni’s favorite because of his obsession with all-rounders) and Manoj Tiwary (lost chance).
Also, with Ashwin struggling to prove that he is indeed a bowler- the onus is also on Dhawal Kulkarni, who bowled decently well for 2 wickets on a flattish pitch. From the ROI side, the bowlers under the scanner are Sreesanth (being slaughtered by Jaffer as we speak), Ojha (a sure-in for the test side, but lacks form), Harbhajan (perennial retiree) and Mithun, who stands a good chance of making a test team devoid of Zaheer, Yadav and Praveen.
By the end of the 4th day, the selectors will have made their list for the test squad to face the visiting Australians- after Tendulkar, Sharma, Nayar will have batted. Currently, it is Raina in the boxseat for Yuvraj’s test spot after another fighting century with the lower order.