Every year, when the Indian First Class season begins, there are wistful sighs — even groans of dissatisfaction — about how competitions such as the Ranji Trophy, the Duleep Trophy, and the Irani Cup have lost their lustre.
It’s easy to see where the feeling comes from. For many old-timers — still romancing the game in sepia-tinted splendour — the aforementioned tournaments evoke memories of unflinching rivalries, packed houses, and quality tussles between bat and ball.
To such folk, the Duleep Trophy, for instance, is all about Ajit Wadekar’s exploits against the spin trio of Erapalli Prasanna, S. Venkataraghavan, and B.S. Chandrasekhar in the 1966-67 final. Or, Salim Durrani, Parthasarathy Sharma and Hanumant Singh architecting Central Zone’s maiden triumph in 1971-72.
Not to forget, the likes of Bishan Bedi and Kapil Dev (North), Sunil Gavaskar (West), and G.R. Viswanath (South) playing with and against one another in several contests.
As this season’s quarterfinal between South and West begins at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Thursday, it’s obvious that things are radically different.
Both teams, courtesy the Champions League T20, are missing out on some marquee players. However, it will be wrong to suggest there isn’t much to play for.
Last year, Yuvraj Singh made his return to First Class cricket, after battling cancer, with a double-century in the semifinals. Shikhar Dhawan, too, whipped up two centuries, the beginning of a purple patch that culminated in his selection to the Indian team and the subsequent dream run.
The match will offer a fine stage to the young, exciting talent on either side: Manpreet Juneja, Sandeep Warrier, Suryakumar Yadav, and B. Aparajith to name a few.
There are the more established names as well, such as West and South skippers Wasim Jaffer — the highest scorer in the Duleep with 2,534 runs — and R. Vinay Kumar respectively, Abhinav Mukund, Jaydev Unadkat and Yusuf Pathan.
Robin Uthappa, who’s pulled out owing to hamstring tendonitis, has been replaced by Andhra’s B. Sumanth.
At the pre-match press conference on Wednesday, Sunil Subramaniam (South’s coach) and Jaffer, and Hitesh Goswami (West’s coach) sang from the same hymn sheet.
They underscored the importance of batting first on a wicket that’s bound to assist spinners on days three and four.
“The selectors will be curious to see a couple of talented youngsters, and they will decide the playing eleven,” said Subramaniam.
With chairman of selectors Sandeep Patil and his colleague Rajinder Singh Hans present at the venue, it won’t be inopportune for some of the young guns to rise to the occasion.
The teams (from): South Zone: R. Vinay Kumar (c), Abhinav Mukund (vc), B. Sumanth, K.L. Rahul, P. Akshath Reddy, B. Aparajith, C.M. Gautam (wk), Rohan Prem, Manish Pandey, A. Mithun, Sandeep Warrier, H.S. Sharath, C.P. Shahid, Malolan Rangarajan, R. Aushik Srinivas.
West Zone: Wasim Jaffer (c), Yusuf Pathan (vc), Harshad Khadiwale, Aditya Waghmode, Hiken Shah, Manpreet Juneja, Ankit Bawne, Suryakumar Yadav, Rohit Motwani (wk), Kamlesh Makwana, Samad Fallah, Murtuja Vahora, Jaydev Unadkat, Rakesh Dhruv, Akshay Darekar.
Officials: Umpires: Anil Kumar Chaudhary & Sudhir Asnani. Match Referee: Sanjay Raul.
Hours of play: 9.30 a.m. to noon; 12.40 to 2.40 p.m.; 3 p.m. to 4.30 p.m.