Preview: Irani Cup a battle of individuals

Delhi would lock horn with Rest of India, an intriguing assortment of ageing stalwarts and India hopefuls who have a statesmanlike captain in Anil Kumble.

updated: September 23, 2008 14:31 IST
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A gem of a knock or a magical spell over the next five days would do what truckloads of runs and sackful of wickets over a season's trundling can not and hence the Irani Cup match between Ranji champion Delhi and Rest of India starting on Wednesday would be more of a battle among 22 individuals rather than two outfits.

On paper, Ranji champions Delhi, under the talismanic Virender Sehwag, would lock horn with Rest of India, an intriguing assortment of ageing stalwarts and India hopefuls who have a statesmanlike captain in Anil Kumble.

In reality, it's a gilt-edged opportunity for all to impress men who matter and grab berths in the Test team, which would take on Ricky Ponting's Australia in another fortnight.

Sachin Tendulkar's late withdrawal owing to an elbow injury has indeed taken some sheen out of the tie but with so much at stake, Kumble and Sehwag would be spared the job of motivating teammates.

For most of the Rest of India players, the next five days would be a make-or-mar situation, as far as their Test career is concerned.

Individually, no one seems to have more at stake than Rahul Dravid. Selectors have already shoved the bitter pill down Sourav Ganguly's throat and no one realises it better than fellow Thirtysomethings Dravid that time is ticking by for him.

Like Ganguly, he too proved a dud with the bat in Sri Lanka and though he was lucky to escape the boot, Dravid badly needs to cash in on this end of the rope thrown by the selectors and prove that he is not past the sell-by date.

Interestingly, teammate Mohammad Kaif is more or less in a similar tricky situation. Once touted the future captain, Kaif's has been one of the most incredible slides in recent times till he finally arrested the freefall and clawed his way back in the reckoning.

The cultured 94 for India A against the Australian colts did help as did Ganguly's ouster but in case Kaif lets go this opportunity, it may not come knocking again.

Like him, Parthiv Patel too has gone through the grind before finally helping himself to an opportunity to prove his mettle. The babyfaced left-hander is set to open the innings with Mumbaikar Wasim Jaffer who faces similar challenge to prove his mettle.

In the middle order, VVS Laxman can breath easy indeed, for he did manage to salvage some reputation in Sri Lanka and going by his jaw-dropping record against the Aussies, there is no such air of uncertainty around the stylish Hyderabadi.

In the bowling department, Ashok Dinda hit a jackpot in the Indian Premier League and got a place in the side but with Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel and R P Singh in the ranks, the Bengal pacer's chances of gatecrashing into the playing XI looks slim.

For Delhi, the tie comes as an opportunity to make amends for losing the Mohammad Nissar Trophy to the Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited.

Sehwag himself was woefully out of form and though Aakash Chopra and Virat Kohli stacked runs after runs in the second innings, it was too late by then and the Pakistani side ran away with the silverware, thanks to their first innings lead.

For Chopra, it would be another occasion to send the message across that he has mastered the art of crafting, which may not look glamorous because of its painstaking nature but can be effective in the longer version of the game.

For Delhi, neither Sehwag nor his deputy Gautam Gambhir has anything new to prove but teammate and comeback man Ashish Nehra is itching to prove critics wrong who had penned the obituary of his stop-start career.

Nehra, in Mumbai Indians colour, sizzled in the IPL and looked sharp in Mohammad Nissar Trophy as well. Bowling against the likes of Laxman, Dravid, Kaif and MS Dhoni would surely bring out the best in the lanky pacer.

In contrast, fellow pacer Ishant Sharma is almost sure of a place in the Indian side for the Test series against Australia. Still, how the gangly speedster fares against the Laxmans and Dravids would give an idea about his reparation for the Aussies he had tormented Down Under last summer.

Squads (From):

Rest of India: Anil Kumble (C), MS Dhoni (wk), S Badrinath, Ashok Dinda, Rahul Dravid, Harbhajan Singh, Wasim Jaffer, Mohammad Kaif, Zaheer Khan, VVS Laxman, Pragyan Ojha, Munaf Patel, Parthiv Patel and RP Singh.

Delhi: Virender Sehwag (C), Narender Singh, Amit Bhandari, Rajat Bhatia, Puneet Bisht (wk), Aakash Chopra, Shikhar Dhawan, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Mithun Manhas, Chetanya Nanda, Ashish Nehra, Pradeep Sangwan, Ishant Sharma, Mayank Tehlan.