For the few die-hard fans, who turned up at Dr. Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy stadium — the venue for Deodhar Trophy — the sight of Harbhajan Singh bowling well in the nets would've rekindled memories of some of his best performances.
When Harbhajan leads India Blue against India Red in the tournament's first match on Saturday, his team will expect him to play a decisive role. Looking fit, he's in the mood to remind everyone that he is not a spent force yet.
India Blue will miss the services of Rohit Sharma, who's nursing an injury, and Shreyas Iyer, who's in Dharamsala as part of the Indian squad. But it has a competent bowling attack, with pacers — Siddharth Kaul, Shardul Thakur, Pankaj Kumar Rao and Prasidh Krishna — and slow bowlers Shahbaz Nadeem and Harbhajan Singh.
Ambati Rayudu, Manoj Tiwary, Mandeep Singh, Krunal Pandya and wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant form its robust batting line-up.
Mayank Agarwal, who was moved from India Red to India Blue, will strengthen its line-up.
India Red is led by the diminutive Parthiv Patel, who should not be faulted if he is wondering what more he has to do in domestic cricket to book a permanent slot in the Indian team. After Wriddhiman Saha's improved show with the bat of late, Parthiv's wait will prolong.
A struggling Shikhar Dhawan should be surely itching for a couple of big scores to be back in the reckoning for the national team. Clean-hitting Ishank Jaggi, Gurkeerat Singh Mann and Manish Pandey are capable of playing explosive knocks for India Red.
In bowling, pacers Ashoke Dinda, Dhawal Kulkarni and left-armer Kulwant Khejroliya are expected to provide early breakthroughs and set the stage for the experienced spinner Axar Patel to befuddle the batters.
On the other hand, Tamil Nadu, the newly-crowned Vijay Hazare Trophy champion, will bank once again on Dinesh Karthik, who was the leading scorer in the tournament with 607 runs from nine innings.
Openers Ganga Sridhar Raju and Kaushik Gandhi hold the key to Tamil Nadu's campaign on pitches, which national selection committee chairman M. S. K. Prasad feels should have good bounce and be good for batting too.
Interestingly, Tamil Nadu, without Baba Aparajith and Aswin Crist (who will be playing for India in the Emerging Teams Cup in Bangladesh), preferred to train at Vizianagaram on Friday. Left-arm spinner Rahil Shah and leg-spinner Murugan Ashwin could well be tested in these conditions.
The players will be hoping to be at their best as this will be the last major domestic 50-overs tournament before the Champions Trophy, which starts from June, in England.
India Blue: Harbhajan Singh ( captain ), Mandeep Singh, Mayank Agarwal, Ambati Rayudu, Manoj Tiwary, Rishabh Pant, Deepak Hooda, Krunal Pandya, Shahbaz Nadeem, Siddarth Kaul, Shardul Thakur, Prasidh Krishna, Pankaj Rao and Ruturaj Gaikwad.
India Red: Parthiv Patel ( captain ), Shikhar Dhawan, Manish Pandey, Ishank Jaggi, Gurkeerat Mann, Axar Patel, Akshay Karnewar, Ashoke Dinda, Kulwant Khejroliya, Dhawal Kulkarni, Govinda Poddar, Sreevats Goswami, Chama Milind and Harpreeth Singh Bhatia.
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