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A comeback vehicle than a talent hunt

When the Challenger Series for the NKP Salve Trophy was launched in 1994, its main objective was to test the 50-over skills of youngsters playing alongside and against some of the biggest names in Indian cricket.

cricket Updated: Oct 10, 2011 02:29 IST
Amol Karhadkar

When the Challenger Series for the NKP Salve Trophy was launched in 1994, its main objective was to test the 50-over skills of youngsters playing alongside anhttp://www.hindustantimes.com/images/HTPopups/101011/10-10-11-metro16.jpgd against some of the biggest names in Indian cricket.

However, over the years, the tournament seems to have evolved to a great extent. As a result, as the season's first 50-over-a-side event commences at the Vidarbha Cricket Association's stadium on the outskirts of the Orange City on Monday, it will be more of an opportunity for the established players to prove their fitness and stake claim for regaining their places in India's ODI side.

As a result, as anxious as the Paul Valthatys and the Bhargav Bhatts would be while making their maiden Challenger appearance, the state of mind of Gautam Gambhir or S Badrinath or Irfan or Yusuf Pathan would be no different.

While Gambhir, on a comeback trail after returning midway from the England tour, has been asked to lead India Red for the two league games to assess his fitness, the others, including Harbhajan Singh, who will be in charge of India Green, will try and make a case for their recall into the national side.

"It has always been a fantastic opportunity for all the players to stake a claim for India's ODI side," Amay Khurasia, the former India batsman who is the coach of India Blue, told HT. "For the youngsters, now is an opportunity to show their prowess in the 50-over format after proving their worth in Twenty20."

But how should a Gambhir or a Pragyan Ojha, both of whom are supposed to feature in India's first ODI against England on Friday, approach the coming two games, including the Reds' opener against the Blues on Monday?

"It's as good as a warm-up for them," Khurasia said. "It gives them an opportunity to spend some quality time in the middle and get into the groove of being a part of an intense contest."

But the fact that Gambhir checked into the team hotel late on Sunday doesn't really give an impression that he was taking the tournament as seriously as he ought to have.

But Gambhir's Blues counterpart, Badrinath, had a clear idea about what his team's approach should be towards the four-day event. "I just want them to go out there and enjoy themselves."

If all the 42 players featuring in the tournament follow Badri's advice to perfection, come Thursday night and the Indian cricket fan and the national selectors would possibly be grinning broadly.