An early exit in the recent Champions Trophy has opened a can of worms in Indian cricket. At a time when the raging debate is about the future of the 50-over cricket, India’s failure to go beyond the league stage has raised a lot of questions, mainly in the bowling department.
In this backdrop, the Challenger Series for the NKP Salve Trophy among the best available India players, including M. S. Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Abhishek Nayar, Yusuf Pathan, Ishant Sharma and Suresh Raina who returned from South Africa, will acquire much significance.
Otherwise, the tournament, at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium here from Thursday — that coincides with the richest cricketing event, the Champions League — would have been reduced to just another in the BCCI calendar.
Eight of the India players involved in the Champions Trophy — Gautam Gambhir, Dinesh Karthik, Ashish Nehra, Amit Sharma, R.P. Singh, Rahul Dravid, Praveen Kumar and Virat Kohli — will be turning out for their respective franchisees in the T20 competition, giving more players, some hardly known outside their states, a chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Harbhajan and Dhoni.
Dhiraj Goswami from Assam, Jalaj Saxena from Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand’s Ishank Jaggi and Maharashtra’s Ameya Shrikhande are a few of the little-known players who would be keen to make an impression.
Performances in the Challengers have often been considered for India selection. Though major changes in the Indian squad are not expected as Dhoni’s men look to bury the forgettable Champions Trophy and take on the winners Australia in a seven-match ODI series starting in Baroda on October 25, the selectors also do not want to send wrong signals by pressing the panic button and making wholesale changes.
But a couple of slots in the Indian team could come up for discussion when the selectors pick up the squad for the home series against the world champions. R. P. Singh and Yusuf Pathan’s performances have cost India matches and the selectors could well be planning to replace them.
The distribution of players in three teams has left no clear favourites this year. While India Blue — or India Seniors till 2005-06 — are generally strong as they have a majority of the current national players, the same cannot be said of M. S. Dhoni’s Blue brigade this time around.
The tournament will also see the captaincy skills of Suresh Raina, for whom it will be a new challenge. He will lead India Green.