Not often in the recent past has the Irani Cup attained such significance. Sandwiched between an impending Test series against the Aussies and a not-so-heartening Test escapade in Sri Lanka, it has almost the entire Test team lined up under the Rest of India umbrella against Ranji Trophy champions Delhi. Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma in the Delhi line-up provide fullness to the list.
The phase of transition Indian cricket is going through could have its epicentre in the land of the Pathan brothers come Wednesday. The day also marks a year of the Dhoni brigade's journey to the top of the world in T20 cricket.
If that triumph of youth followed by ODI wins in Australia and Sri Lanka and Sourav Ganguly's omission from the Rest squad are anything to go by, then this match is a platform for the golden oldies to give yet another reminder of the game left in them.
Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman would want to spend as much time as possible in the middle, if Ganguly's exclusion means that everyone has to be on their toes. And obviously, all eyes would be on the middle order. Here, the absence of Sachin Tendulkar opens a window for S. Badrinath, who had made a statement of his abilities in the Irani Cup game in 2006.
This match is also an opportunity for the youngsters. For the likes of Delhi's Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan, a good knock could go a long way to convince selectors that there are options. The same goes for Mohammad Kaif, if Anil Kumble chooses to play six batsmen.
Parthiv Patel seems to be the likely choice to open alongside Wasim Jaffer but that would mean Rest of India would play either him or M.S. Dhoni as a batsman.
It would also be interesting to see whether Kumble decides to play three seamers and goes with five specialist bowlers. All could draw heart from the fact that Irani Cup in the past has been a launch pad for Dilip Vengsarkar, Tendulkar and gave a comeback chance to Kumble.
It was a breezy century for Mumbai thumping Bishan Singh Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna that gave Vengsarkar a national call-up in 1975. Tendulkar was called to join the team to Pakistan after a century in 1989-90 and a match-haul of 11 wickets — seven in the second innings against Mumbai - got Kumble back in the reckoning after a gap of two years in the early 90s.
Years later, the Irani Cup is once again presenting an opportunity to players of all hues and views, with an eye on the future.