It was quiet on the southern front on Saturday. There was little hint of what promises to be a grim battle to prove who is better, who is best of Indian cricket in the Challenger Trophy that gets underway from Sunday.
Saturday saw only one real news item and that was a shocker, late in the night the information that VVS Laxman has pulled out of the event with a hamstring injury. BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah said he would speak to Rahul Dravid about whether Sachin Tendulkar could move to the India Green team in Laxman’s stead. If that happens, there would be no replacement for Tendulkar in Dravid’s India Blue.
Meanwhile, it is rather unfortunate that India’s only domestic competition that comes close to international standards has no sponsor. There is so little interest that the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association has done away with advance and season tickets.
But if tickets were to be sold among the players to get a chance to perform before new selection committee chairman Dilip Vengsarkar, there sure would be a rush.
There was no visible sign of tension just ahead of an event that might unveil new talents, rediscover old ones or consign some to oblivion. Most players reached the city amid a surprisingly low media turnout.
Probably reflecting the varying degrees of motivation, Sourav Ganguly was the first to show up at Chidambaram Stadium and that’s when the cameras started appearing. With him was Bengal off-spinner Sourasish Lahiri, his teammate in the Md Kaif-led India Green. Sparring with Lahiri and local players at the nets was all that Ganguly could do because the rest of his team decided to train on Sunday morning.
Of the teams kicking off the event, only India Red were out in full strength under the eyes of coach Lalchand Rajput. From India Blue, just Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh were seen. Their team has 11 of India’s 14 Champions Trophy players, with Tendulkar and RP Singh set to miss the first match. The genius arrived on Saturday evening, but wants to rest before starting off against Kaif’s team on Monday. RP just finished his state UP’s game against Sialkot and is scheduled to fly in ahead of Monday’s game.
This means India Blue, with Greg Chappell’s deputy Ian Frazer as coach, have no selection dilemma since there are just 13 in the squad. Former India under-19 player Ravindra Jadeja thus gets his first chance to share the stage with the players of his dreams.
Of the Venugopal Rao-led, low-profile Reds, they don’t have as many players on a comeback trail as India Green, but have in their ranks Gautam Gambhir, Murali Kartik and Zaheer Khan.
The stakes are high for all but Zaheer could still be the most motivated after being ignored for quite a while. This hope among players that there is still a lot to play for makes this Challenger Trophy potentially different from previous years. Here is hoping that the rains do not wash hope away.