Perhaps the Irani Cup ought to be treated as a prize in itself and not a means to any lofty end. There was a time when the match was seen as a step towards an India cap but it has increasingly appeared ceremonial rather than of any real significance.

Last year, Rest of India ground out an arduously dull draw to overcome Mumbai on first-innings lead; in the three seasons before that, the contest had been so lopsided as to be rendered a formality for Rest of India halfway through. Nobody, in short, has been particularly thrilled.

Karnataka will thus be better off viewing its very appearance in the Irani Cup as a reward, or an extended coronation of some sort. “Winning this after clinching the Ranji Trophy will be like a bonus,” captain R. Vinay Kumar said ahead of the match, which begins at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium here from Sunday. “All the players are eager to perform here because there is a greater chance of getting noticed.”

While players who have done well over the entire season ought not to lose sleep over a one-off engagement, Vinay’s sentiment is not an uncommon one. On both sides, there are players untried or jettisoned, hoping for either a first call-up or a return to India colours.

“Every match is an opportunity to get better at my game; that will open the door for me when it comes to the national team,” Rest captain Harbhajan Singh said. “I’m 33 and I believe I can still do what 20-year olds can.”

Of a similar mind will be Gautam Gambhir, who last played for India over a year ago and must be pleased at remaining in the selectors’ thoughts. He does not feature in the ‘probables’ for next month’s ICC World Twenty20, the squad for which — as also the Asia Cup — will be drawn up here over the coming days. But six other players from Rest of India, Vinay and Stuart Binny from Karnataka have made the long-list. How much five-day cricket will affect their chances of selection is debatable, but a good show can’t do any harm.

Advantage

Karnataka, Vinay noted, has the advantage of having played as a team all season long while Rest has only now come together. But only twice in the last 15 editions has the Ranji champion won the Irani Cup; it shows that any troubles bonding have largely been offset by the quality of the players available.

In Varun Aaron, Ashoke Dinda and Pankaj Singh, Rest has three fast bowlers to match Karnataka’s own while Kedar Jadhav, Ankit Bawne and Jiwanjot Singh have all made good runs this season. The return of Binny and H.S. Sharath will reinforce Karnataka which, given a chance to play before home crowds as champion, will seek a fifth Irani Cup.

The teams (from):

Karnataka: R. Vinay Kumar (capt.), C.M. Gautam, Robin Uthappa, K.L. Rahul, Ganesh Satish, Manish Pandey, Stuart Binny, Karun Nair, Shreyas Gopal, A. Mithun, Amit Verma, Mayank Agarwal, S. Arvind, H.S. Sharath, Ronit More and Abrar Kazi.

Rest of India: Harbhajan Singh (capt.), Jiwanjot Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Baba Aparajith, Kedar Jadhav, Ankit Bawne, Dinesh Karthik, Amit Mishra, Pankaj Singh, Ashoke Dinda, Varun Aaron, Parvez Rasool, Anureet Singh, Natraj Behera, and Mandeep Singh.

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