At a time when some experts are calling for the scrapping of 50-overs cricket a new tournament of the same format started by the BCCI will begin in four centres on Tuesday.
Only four of the 15 India players for the Sri Lanka tri-series and the Champions Trophy will miss the Corporate Trophy, which is also looked at as a preparation for the two international events.
Sachin Tendulkar and Ashish Nehra are not employed by corporates while Dinesh Karthik's team Chemplast is not in the competition. Yusuf Pathan (Reliance Industries) is in the same boat.
The seriousness with which the teams have approached this tournament has been phenomenal. They have had short camps at their respective centres.
Take the case of India Cements from Chennai. The company that owns Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the IPL has brought Stephen Fleming as coach, Greg King as trainer and have also brought in former Australian wicketkeeper Steve Rixon as their fielding coach, though he has not been appointed full-time.
Barring bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad, the entire Super Kings support staff is with India Cements.
“Fleming and King visit India once in three months to spot talent, assess the fitness of the CSK players, most of whom are with India Cements,” said Kasi Viswanathan, an India Cements official. “They are not here just for the Corporate Trophy but also for the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association League to do periodical assessments on their players. It is part of their job.”
While there are some high-profiled teams, lesser-known teams like BSNL, ITC and All India Public Sector Sports Promotion Board will gain from playing against the current and former India stars.
Said Ramesh Kumar, coach of BSNL: “The other teams in my group (India Cements and Air India - Red) are very strong but we hope to put it across them.”
He added that he has five current first-class players who have the experience of playing with Kookaburra white balls, the type to be used in the tournament, but hardly any who have played under lights.
Kumar has only echoed the concerns of most of the other teams, for whom the experience of playing in this tournament can only enrich their game.
The BCCI may have grand plans for it's inaugural corporate cricket tournament, including prize money to the tune of Rs 1.5 crores, but weather conditions in northern India might just leave the tournament massively disrupted.
Dharamsala and Mohali, the two northern venues for the tournament have been drenched by major downpours. The non-stop showers have left the outfield of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) Stadium water-logged and there are concerns that water might have seeped into the pitch, though it has been covered for five days.
“The pitch and the 30-yard area surrounding have been covered for the past five days so it's dry but the outfield is completely wet,” said HPCA official Sanjay Sharma.
Umpire K. Hariharan, who will be officiating in the tournament, was forced to take a bus to Dharamsala after inclement weather grounded his flight.
“If such conditions persist, I am not sure if the tournament will take place,” he said, adding, “If that happens the fate of the teams will be decided by the toss of coin.”
While some lucky teams would make it through, this could deny players a chance to impress the selectors ahead of the first-class season.
For players like Rohan Gavaskar (playing for Tata Sports Club), trying to make a comeback after a stint with the ICL, this tournament would have provided an opportunity to make a case for a Ranji return.
Three teams - Tata Sports Club, AIPSSB, Indian Oil - will play their Group C league matches in Dharamsala.
Tournament a chance to impress selectors
If a six-week break has given Team India much-needed rest, the Corporate Trophy will provide them a good workout before an action-packed year ahead. The only dampener was the heavy showers that struck on Monday. The hope is that the drainage at the VDCA ground will be equal to the task.
Battle of equals
Both BPCL and MRF may not have big names in their ranks, but what promises a neck-to-neck fight between the two sides is the sheer form of their players. Leading the pack is S Sriram (5 matches, 482 runs, average 96.4 in the Chennai league).
“I am at the top of my game and I'm happy to be able to contribute. Captaincy is an additional responsibility and I am enjoying it. If I can help a few people in the process and win games for my team, I will be more than happy,” Sriram said.
Sriram will have the likes of Venugopal Rao, Sunny Gupta and Thalaivan Sargunam for company in the batting. “Sunny is in good form and we might ask him to open the innings with Thalaivan,” said Sriram. “Venugopal is in good touch and we are combining well as a unit. It's a young side. We have to dominate and win crucial moments in the match.”
Ready for challenge
If the MRF camp is bustling with energy, the BPCL squad is not far behind. Under coach Sangram Sawant, the team reached Vizag a week in advance and has played a series of practice matches. Sitanshu Kotak, Pragyan Ojha and Abhishek Nayar, who were playing matches in various parts, joined the squad late.
BPCL will depend heavily on Mumbai seamer Aavishkar Salvi for early breakthroughs.
The biggest disappointment for BPCL has been the absence of S Sreesanth. “He had committed to participate before going to Warwickshire,” said Sawant. “But he has not bothered to contact us despite several attempts from our office. The team won't miss him much though.”