Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy: Time for some more fireworks

Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, now in its 16th year, can be seen as a platform for domestic cricketers to knock on the doors of the Indian Premier League.

Vijay Shankar will lead Tamil Nadu in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. The team will play its group league fixtures in Lucknow.   -  Special Arrangement

Having heralded a busy 12 months of cricket after the COVID-19 pandemic derailed all cricket for a few months in 2020, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy is back again as part of a complete package of domestic cricket in 2021-22. A total of 105 matches will be played at various venues across India within 19 days to determine the domestic T20 champion among 38 regional teams.

The tourney, now in its 16th year, can be seen as a platform for domestic cricketers to knock on the doors of the Indian Premier League. The 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy, scheduled to be held in December, just ahead of the IPL auction in January, 2022, will serve the same purpose. Scouts from IPL teams will take a keen look at fresh and old talent to zero in on their preferred buys in the auction.

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The extravaganza helps those cricketers already part of the IPL, too. Madhya Pradesh fast bowler Avesh Khan was a sensation for Delhi Capitals in IPL 2021, after having honed his skills in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy earlier in the year. This is what he said after taking a three-for in the contest between Rajasthan Royals and Capitals on 15 April: “My domestic performances mattered a lot. I took 14 wickets in five matches in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. I learnt a lot of variations then, and I’m using them now; I’m also using some of the tactics I gathered then, and bowling according to the nature of the pitch.”

Avesh finished as the second-highest wicket-taker in IPL 2021, with 24 wickets in 16 matches.

Odisha coach Wasim Jaffer during a practice session in Lucknow on Tuesday.   -  Special Arrangement

 

Likewise, Kolkata Knight Riders’ Venkatesh Iyer used the tournament to showcase his batting prowess, scoring 227 runs in five matches, including a best of 88 (unbeaten). The spotlight was on him in the IPL as he piled on the runs at the top of the order for KKR.

The diminutive Prithvi Shaw didn’t play last season as he was away in Australia for India duty. Stung after being dropped from the national team, Prithvi hit a purple patch for Mumbai in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, scoring 827 runs. His IPL returns were impressive, too: 479 runs in 15 matches.

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Tamil Nadu, brimming with heavyweights, will fancy its chances of retaining its crown. Under Dinesh Karthik, the side reached the final twice in a row. India internationals Vijay Shankar, Washington Sundar and T. Natarajan and stalwarts in B. Aparajith and M. Ashwin are part of the squad. N. Jadadeesan and C. Hari Nishaanth scored more than 600 runs between them last season, and Tamil Nadu will hope the duo continues to fire.

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Karnataka, the 2019-20 finalist, will be without fast bowler Abhimanyu Mithun, who retired from all cricket last month. The team, nevertheless, will be a top contender, too. Led by Manish Pandey, Karnataka possesses such well-known players as Mayank Agarwal, K. Gowtham, Shreyas Gopal and Devdutt Padikkal.

Given the fickle nature of T20s, any team can spring a surprise. Mumbai, Baroda, Bengal and Kerala are some of the other teams to watch out for. Kerala, led by Sanju Samson, reached the quarterfinals last season in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, and won three out of five matches in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. The seasoned Robin Uthappa and Jalaj Saxena are part of the squad.

Saurashtra will be playing without Avi Barot, who died of cardiac arrest last month aged 29. He was spectacular for his side last season, scoring 283 runs in five matches, including a century and a half-century.

Expect a lot of fireworks and surprises in store.

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