The Irani Trophy match between The Rest of India (RoI) and the Ranji Trophy Champions (Delhi), the traditional season-opener, will be played between Sept 24 and Sept 28 this year.
The match takes on additional significance this year because it is just prior to an important series in India between India and Australia.
The Australians have been gearing up for this tour since the start of the year. After the tour of Australia by India from December 2007 to March 2008, it seems like much of Australia has trained its sights on this “revenge” tour.
Phrases like “the last frontier” have disappeared from the dictionary, to describe an India tour by the Australian cricket team! New phrases have been coined to give additional meaning, extra edge and significantly more teeth to this cricket tour! In recent days, Michael Hussey has termed the India tour as the “Everest” of cricket encounters! Brett Lee has fast-tracked his return from a self-imposed exile subsequent to his separation from his wife in order to declare himself mentally fit to tour India — a country where he is immensely popular despite the fact that he has not played a single Test match in that country!
After India’s tour of Australia in 2007-2008, Australia undertook a somewhat easy tour of the West Indies and played a meaningless ODI series against Bangladesh! India has had a busy time with a home series against South Africa, the IPL, a few ODIs against Pakistan, the Asia Cup and, more recently, a series against Sri Lanka.
There is clearly feeling in the Australia camp. India’s tour of Australia still rankles with folk in Australia! Truth be said. Australia won the Test series 2-1, although India did win the last instalment of the ODI Tri-Series that will be played in Australia! That must have hurt! But Australia did win the all-important Test series and retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. However, the nature of Australia’s victory in Sydney and MonkeyGate, the cliched-label that marked the aftermath of that victory in Sydney still leaves a sour taste in the mouth of most people associated with cricket in Australia and India! Why? Andrew Symonds’s alleged lackadaisical approach to his cricket since those infamous post-Sydney-Test spats have been put down to the aftermath of that Test match!
There are scores to be settled here! And so, this tour assumes greater significance. Despite Stuart Clarks’ posturing that notions of tension between the Australia and India players is just a creation by the media, one must assume that there is feeling in both camps.
Not that all of this is necessarily bad for world cricket. In my view, a good fight is good for cricket as long as it is all above board!
Australia’s preparation lead up to the tour of India has not been that great. Australia is in the search for a spinner — any spinner! Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden are on the injury list. It is not clear that they will be fighting fit before the start of the tour. Brett Lee has been shaken up recently as a result of his own personal issues. Andrew Symonds is currently AWOL. Australia also has a new wicket-keeper and its pace bowlers did not exactly set the ground alight in Darwin against Bangladesh!
The only saving grace for Australia is that India has as many questions to ask of its own stock as Australia has! Most of these questions surround the Fab Four — or Five!
The tour of Sri Lanka asked these searching questions. Although most of these questions were asked by a young novice spinner bowling in tandem with a wily old fox of a spinner, the questions were indeed asked. Sadly there weren’t (m)any convincing answers from India! Surprisingly, the Fab Four lapsed into a journey of extreme and inexplicable introspection, self-doubt and self-inquiry. This showed in the tentativeness of their collective batting. Anil Kumble, too, had more questions than answers; more frowns than smiles!
But the establishment in India has taken its first, tentative steps towards finding a way out to the future. The selectino committee, in what is perhaps a pointer to the future, has dropped Sourav Ganguly from the Rest of India team to take on Delhi in the Irani Trophy.
This was a brave move. A long-overdue move, in my view. But still, a brave move. Effigy makers in Kolkata are possibly rubbing their hands in glee already!
Given that Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma are almost sure to make Team India from the Delhi side, there could be one middle order place up for grabs in the Team India line up. And that person could be Mohammed Kaif who grabbed an opportunity to make an impression last week, with a stylish 94 for India ‘A’ against Australia ‘A’.
Interestingly, apart from Wasim Jaffer, the RoI side is without a regular ‘opener’! This perhaps gives rise to the suggestion that the selectors aren’t really keen on disturbing the Sehwag-Gambhir combination that did so well in Sri Lanka. Perhaps Wasim Jaffer is there in the RoI side just to make up the numbers! In all likelihood, Parthiv Patel will walk out with Jaffer to open the batting for RoI. I would like M. S. Dhoni to sit out this match. This will give the team an opportunity to test out Kaif in the #6 spot against a strong Delhi bowling attack. A surprise pick to the RoI side is Ashok Dinda from Kolkata! He makes it ahead of Pankaj Singh (who went to Australia as part of the Test team), Praveen Kumar and a bevy of others. Perhaps this is so as to keep the effigy makers in Kolkata a bit confused and unsure!
Parthiv Patel (wk)
Anil Kumble (Capt)
Munaf Patel / RP Singh / Ashok Dinda
12th Man: MS Dhoni (wk),
Overall, in my view, this is a necessary step in the right direction. A brave step too…