Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2019: Spotlight on comeback man Wriddhiman Saha and Mayank Agarwal

Saha is returning to competitive cricket after being out of action for nine months with a shoulder surgery; Agarwal, who had a dream debut series in Australia, struggled for runs in the Ranji Trophy semifinal against Saurashtra and will be eyeing a rewarding run at Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament which gets underway from Thursday.

Mayank Agarwal and Wriddhiman Saha will look to utilise the game time at Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament as a tune-up for the IPL.

India's domestic T20 tournament Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy gets underway from Thursday with Cuttack's Barabati stadium and DRIEMS ground hosting the Group D encounters.

Unlike the previous three editions, where the competition was organised just before the Indian Premier League auction, Mushtaq Ali might have lesser relevance for IPL scouts this year with the auction for the 2019 edition getting over in December last year.

But in a crammed domestic calendar, which saw over 2000 matches being played across formats, the domestic T20 competition retains importance for the likes of Wriddhiman Saha and Mayank Agarwal who will use it as a tune-up for the IPL.

Saha, returning to competitive cricket after being out of action for nine months with a shoulder surgery, will be hoping to get some runs under his belt. Saha injured his shoulder while playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad in a match against Kolkata Knight Riders at the Eden Gardens.

READ: Kohli to lead Mizoram in Syed Mushtaq Ali

The Bengal wicketkeeper-batsman had to undergo an extensive rehabilitation programme and was forced to miss the complete England tour, the home series against the West Indies and India’s campaign Down Under.

Meanwhile, Agarwal, who had a dream debut series in Australia, struggled for runs in the Ranji Trophy semifinal against Saurashtra. He will be eyeing a rewarding run here.

Odisha left-arm spinner Pappu Roy, too, will be a player to watch out for. Roy made headlines last year when he was named in the India C squad for the Deodhar Trophy. This came close on the heels of an impressive Vijay Hazare 2018-19 where he snapped up 14 wickets at an average of 18.42 and an economy rate of 3.79.

GROUP D, Round 1 (February 21):
  • Venue: DRIEMS Ground, Cuttack
  • 9:00 AM: Assam vs Karnataka
  • 1:00 PM: Haryana vs Arunachal Pradesh
  • Venue: Barabati Stadium, Cuttack
  • 9:00 AM: Chhattisgarh vs Odisha
  • 1:00 PM: Bengal vs Mizoram

Litmus test

This will also be the nine new teams' — Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Puducherry, Sikkim and Uttarakhand — maiden tryst with the 'powerhouses' of domestic cricket.

The introduction of the first-timers from the North-East in the Indian domestic calendar has raised eyebrows once again, especially after the quality of cricket on display in the just-concluded Ranji Trophy.

Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh lost seven of their eight matches. The only game they didn't lose was the one where the sides squared off against each other and shared the spoils. But BCCI GM (cricket operations), Saba Karim, had argued that "T20 is the best format to introduce them (new teams) to the big league."

ALSO READ: A tale of two Kohlis – Virat and Taruwar

While the unpredictability of the format could put two apparently mismatched opponents on an even keel, the possibility of a drubbing can't be ruled out either.

Mizoram will open its campaign against Bengal on Thursday while Arunachal takes on Haryana.

A big ticket clash on Friday will see heavyweights Bengal and Karnataka lock horns at the DRIEMS ground.

Karnataka will be without the services of off-spinning all-rounder K. Gowtham, who has been ruled out of the tournament with a shoulder injury , and seamer Ronit More, who has been rested.

All eyes will be on India international Agarwal whose penchant to score quick runs at the top can be a cause of concern for the opposition bowlers.

ALSO READ: Fit-again Robin Uthappa set for comeback

Bengal, on the other hand, will be bolstered by the return of Saha, with skipper Manoj Tiwary, Abhimanyu Easwaran and Shreevats Goswami adding meat to the batting.

With the IPL just 30 days away, Syed Mushtaq tournament promises to be the ideal dress rehearsal for the players, albeit without the packed stands and ebullient cheerleaders.

Teams in Group D:
  • Odisha, Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Assam, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka