Even as India and Australia prepare for the third Test in Indore on Wednesday, 500 km away from the Holkar Stadium in Madhya Pradesh, 22 players will take guard in one of the most prestigious competitions in Indian domestic cricket.
Madhya Pradesh, last year’s Ranji Trophy Champions (2021-22), will take on the Rest of India in the 58th Irani Cup tie here at the Captain Roop Singh Stadium.
While India will not play a lot of Tests this year after the current series against Australia, the tie allows the selectors to assess players like Rest of India skipper Mayank Agarwal, who topped the run charts with 990 runs.
The Karnataka opener was dropped from the national side last year and has since found form in domestic cricket. A good performance here could bring him back in contention for the World Test Championship final if India qualifies and the two Tests in West Indies later in the year.
Meanwhile, left-arm spinner Shams Mulani has replaced leg-spinner Mayank Markande, who injured his finger during training on Monday.
The contest will be a stern test for Madhya Pradesh, especially with the absence of a few key players like top-order bat Rajat Patidar and pacer Gaurav Yadav. Speaking ahead of the match, MP coach Chandrakant Pandit said, “The Irani Cup doesn’t often come in a player’s career, and the boys realise how big a game this is. You have to win a Ranji Trophy to be here.”
It will also be a special game for Pandit as he tries to replicate with MP what he did with Vidarbha twice by doing the Ranji-Irani double.
“Every coach and player wants to win every trophy possible, but I don’t get too excited and want to leave my process. We had a good season this year but lost in the semifinals. After working hard for 40-45 days, we missed out, but we have now been given a chance to get another title. That is how I look at it,” Pandit remarked.
The prestigious match comes when domestic players are gearing up for the IPL, but Rest India of India, coach Shitanshu Kotak, feels players are professional enough to give their best.
“They want to do well and know the selectors are watching. They have enough time to prepare for the IPL after this,” said Kotak.
While the Irani Cup used to be a vital tie and the stepping stone to the national team, in recent times, India A tours are seen as the gateway to a national call-up.
When asked if this match is still relevant, Kotak, who has been India A head and batting coach, said, “Irani has its charm. It is a five-day game. If you are part of a team picked from across the country, you have to do justice to that. It is another chance for players to perform well. Just because you have a few India A tours doesn’t mean it diminishes this match.”
Madhya Pradesh: Himanshu Mantri (c&wk), Yash Dubey, Harsh Gawli, Shubham Sharma, Akshat Raghuvanshi, Aman Solanki, Kumar Kartikeya, Saransh Jain, Avesh Khan, Ankit Kushwah, Anubhav Agarwal, Mihir Hirwani, Aryan Deshmukh, Arham Aqueel, Aryan Pandey
Rest of India: Mayank Agarwal (c), Sudip Kumar Gharami, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Harvik Desai, Mukesh Kumar, Atit Sheth, Chetan Sakariya, Navdeep Saini, Upendra Yadav (wk), Shams Mulani, Saurabh Kumar, Akash Deep, B Indrajith, Pulkit Narang, Yash Dhull.
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