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Of comeback warriors & Challengers

The event could decide how the season pans out for those aiming to make a comeback after losing their national team places, reports Abhijeet Kulkarni.
Hindustan Times | By Abhijeet Kulkarni, Ahmedabad
UPDATED ON OCT 25, 2007 01:38 AM IST

S. SREESANTH has today become a household name, thanks to his aggressive antics on the field in India colours. But it was a brilliant in-swinger which caught Sachin Tendulkar plumb in front of the wicket in the Challenger Trophy two years ago that had brought the spotlight on this Kerala youngster for the first time.

Sreesanth and many of the India team regulars have been rested for this edition of the tournament, rechristened the Challenger Series for the NKP Salve Trophy, that starts here on Thursday with India Red taking on India Blue in the day-night encounter at the Sardar Patel Stadium.

Also missing in action would be the famed trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid along with Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Robin Uthappa, RP Singh and Murali Kartik. Their absence might take some sheen off the country’s premier one-day tournament but every player taking the field would look at it as an opportunity to catch the eye of the five wise men.

The four-day event could also decide how the season pans out for those aiming to make a comeback after losing their national team places due to bad form or injuries.

Leading the pack will be the India Blue skipper Virender Sehwag, who despite being picked for the World Twenty20 Championship, is far from cementing a place in the one-day side. The Delhi batsman was inconsistent in the Twenty20 format and, with India already having five openers in the one-day squad, he would have to come up with an extraordinary performance here if he aspires to face Pakistan at home or for the tour Down Under.

Then there are the likes of Suresh Raina, Manoj Tiwary, Piyush Chawla and Munaf Patel who were forced out by injuries and would have to prove to the selectors that they are fit again and raring to go. The selectors would be keeping a keen watch on Munaf’s performance given the controversies surrounding his fitness levels.

Also pushing for a spot in the national team would be India Green captain Parthiv Patel. The wicketkeeper-batsman had been in great form last season and also played a stellar role in Rest of India’s triumph over Mumbai in the Irani Cup. If the southpaw comes up with a good performance here he may well put pressure on Dinesh Karthik.

Leg-spinner Chawla, who was inducted in the India Green team at the last minute in place of Kartik, would be keen on proving himself again after an injury lay-off, while his Uttar Pradesh teammate and India Red captain Mohammad Kaif would like to remind the selectors that he is still around. Same is the case with Mumbai’s Ramesh Powar who will be a part of the India Blues. The national selectors would be picking the team for the first two one-dayers during the tournament but are most likely to stick to the same combination that played against Australia.

However, with India playing non-stop cricket for the next six months — they begin with a home series against Pakistan, then a tour to Australia — the selectors would also keep a close watch on the youngsters.

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