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Irani Trophy couldn't have been better timed - Suneer Chowdhary column
by Suneer Chowdhary
Sep 09, 2008
In this day and age of a vice called the 'excess of cricket'; it is difficult to imagine a month so shorn of international cricket. Withdrawal symptoms may have already infested many of the fans as they look elsewhere to fill that void. Yet, the BCCI may have made a really wise decision in not unveiling any alternative plans - read, schedule another tournament - in this hiatus that the postponement of the Champions Trophy has delivered us.

Thus, most of the Indian cricketers should be feel fresher than they ever had in the last couple of seasons, for the Australian series; something that would be very vital for its success. In fact, it is not only India, but also Australia who believes that the mantra to achieve success in the sub-continent is to practice hard enough and rest even harder before the series! Ian Healy has had made this point on more occasions than one, about how the Aussies were a tired lot even before their arrival on two prior occasions, in 1998 and in 2001, before realising their mistake and featuring in not a lot of cricket before the 2004 match-up. The results are there for everyone to see. Australia was crushed in '98, and then a magical inning turned it around in 2001, before easily winning the 2004 series.

In fact, if one were to look at the current situation as well, it may just augur well for the Aussies that many of the frontline players have had a time out from the game for reasons not under their control. Brett Lee has had personal issues and he last played international cricket in July - a cool three month lay-off - while Ricky Ponting has been away for four. Matthew Hayden's injury has definitely taken its toll on his body and there have been talks of him retiring from the shorter format of the game, as he last played for Australia in March! What needs to be taken into consideration though is the match fitness and the rustiness associated with being away from the game for such a long period of time. A very thin line separates adequate rest and a break long enough to make the job sound worse than something that causes the Monday morning blues. With no first class cricket for the aforesaid names - at least not till the Indian series gets underway - touring India could just have got tougher.

Which is why, Team India should count itself lucky with ICC's decision to postpone the Champions Trophy. And even luckier that the Irani Trophy tie has been held at the most opportune of times. This, almost forty year old, once in a year five day match, begins from 24th of September this year, and would feature the best team at the Ranji against the best amongst the rest of the teams! So, Delhi, the Ranji Champions last year will be led by Virender Sehwag and would have the likes of Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Pradeep Sangwan amongst others.

The team for Rest of India gets even more interesting. And for more reasons than one. Even before the selectors announced the team, it had been speculated that the team would consist of the best possible Indian team, 11 of whom would then go on to represent India against Australia.

Sure enough, part of the rumour has been proved right, as the selectors have gone in with virtually the same team that had played in Sri Lanka. Except for obviously the openers, Sehwag and Gambhir, who would represent Delhi. And Sourav Ganguly, who has been finally dropped after a poor series against Sri Lanka.

Ganguly must have seen this coming. One may also argue that Ganguly's never-say-die attitude may have prevented him from believing the same. But, in the final analysis, the decision does not look too shocking. Arguments about Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar's bad run of form also hold ground, yet, one almost sensed that not only was Ganguly not in the best of nicks in the Emerald Isles, but he also looked like he would have preferred to be anywhere else but the batting crease. His travails against the Sri Lankan spinners, one-time fodder for his breakfast, had been well documented and the bottomline was that he would have had to be a very lucky man to survive another ouster.

What has been surprising though, has been Ganguly's replacement, Mohammad Kaif. If Mohinder Amarnath was the comeback man of the 1980s, Kaif could very easily take up the mantle in this decade. It is not so much the number of times he has returned to the international fold, but the number of chances that he seems to have got on return. And yet, he has not done a lot to cement his place in the side. Of course, getting selected for the Irani Trophy game does not give him an automatic entry into the Indian side. But the question that then remains on everyone’s lips is if Kaif does fail in the Irani Trophy tie, would it be Ganguly again? Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh would have played almost no cricket to re-prove their credentials with the bat, and Suresh Raina has also not made the cut. Mohammad Kaif's 90 odd against the visiting Aussie team, and his fine last Ranji season would have helped, yet, the feeling that one would be watching Kaif bat against Australia at Bangalore on the does not sound to be a prospect too relishing.

Personal opinions count for very little in this country, especially those which are closely knitted with cricket. Yet, my personal pick would have been the inclusion of Suresh Raina to bat at the number six slot, with a swap of batting positions between Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. However, there is many a slip between the (Border-Gavaskar) cup and the lip, and come 9th of October, lot would have probably changed.
 
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