Mushtaq Ali Trophy: Gearing up for World T20

With the countdown to World T20 having already begun, and announcement of the 30 probables awaited, there is a lot of premium attached to the tournament this year.

Baroda is one of the most successful teams in the tournament, having won two titles.   -  PTI

It’s your only second season in the unforgiving and, often, unrewarding world of domestic cricket. At 20 for two, your team is in a spot of bother. You are up against the might of Mumbai in its backyard. You have to deal with the wiliness of Zaheer Khan, the accuracy of Dhawal Kulkarni and the guile of Pravin Tambe.

What do you do?

When Baroda all-rounder Hardik Pandya was confronted with this question at the Wankhede Stadium on March 30, 2014, his riposte was emphatic to say the least. His astonishing counter-attack — 82 off 57 balls — left the domestic giant and its band of supporters stunned to the core on that floodlit evening. Somewhere in the stands, Mumbai Indians coach John Wright knew that the talent scout in him had witnessed something special.

Pandya is known for his exploits in Indian Premier League. However, the 22-year-old came of age in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the BCCI-run inter-state T20 tournament, two years ago. Soon, he will be on the plane to Australia.

As the 10th edition of the tournament — it was called the Inter-State T20 Championship from 2006-07 to 2008-09 — gets under way in Nagpur, Vadodara, Cuttack and Kochi on Saturday, the question on many a lip is — how relevant is this poor, malnourished and unglamorous cousin of the Indian Premier League?

Haryana coach Surendra Bhave offers some perspective.

“It is extremely relevant. There isn’t a shadow of a doubt. The format is exciting because it’s not an inter-zone tournament any longer. Yes, the quality of cricket you see in the IPL is two or three notches higher, but a good performance here can get you there,” said the 49-year-old, who represented the West Zone on the previous senior national selection committee headed by Kris Srikkanth.

“The IPL is a pointer to the talent. It’s not the be all and end all (of Indian cricket). As a selector, I watched the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy with a lot of interest,” adds the Maharashtra stalwart, who averaged a whopping 58.18 in First-Class cricket but, unfortunately did not get a chance to represent the country.

Bhave’s observations are significant, especially because the ensuing six months are garlanded with T20 tournaments, starting with a three-match series in Australia, a three-match rubber against Sri Lanka at home, the Asia Cup and the ICC World T20, followed by India's summer pastime, the IPL.

Even Bengal coach Sairaj Bahutule endorses Bhave’s views.

“The boys are upbeat. This is a very important tournament to portray their skills. The selectors are watching; the IPL franchises are watching. It’s a very competitive tournament,” says the yesteryear leg-spinner from Mumbai.

Two days ago, the IPL franchises released a batch of cricketers perceived as deadwood or obsolete in the shortest variety. The supposed expendables include Yuvraj Singh and Ishant Sharma. You wear the India badge on the chest but might not be considered good enough to be retained by your franchise.

What catches the support staff of the franchises these days are fresh faces, less in star value, but capable of a 15-ball 40. In a tournament like this, they find a fertile field to identify such talents. Not to forget that some IPL discards like Dinesh Karthik (Tamil Nadu) will be itching to restore themselves to the auction pool and remind they are worthy of hire.

With the countdown to World T20 having already begun, and announcement of the 30 probables awaited, there is a lot of premium attached to the tournament this year.

On Saturday

Nagpur (Group A)

At Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium (Civil Lines): Hyderabad vs Bengal (9 am), Tamil Nadu vs Haryana (1 pm)

At Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium (Jamtha): Himachal Pradesh vs Gujarat (9 am)

Kochi (Group B)

At Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Kaloor): Rajasthan vs Punjab (9 am), Saurashtra vs Tripura (1 pm)

At St Paul’s College Ground (Kalamassery): Kerala vs Jammu & Kashmir (1 pm)

Vadodara (Group C)

At Reliance Stadium (Karadiya): Andhra vs Madhya Pradesh (9 am), Assam vs Baroda (1 pm)

At Alembic Ground (Gorwa): Delhi vs Railways (1 pm)

Cuttack (Group D)

At Barabati Stadium (Biju Patnaik Colony): Mumbai vs Odisha (9 am), Karnataka vs Services (1 pm)

At DRIEMS Ground (Tangi): Maharashtra vs Uttar Pradesh (9 am)