Irani Cup: Yadav return a boost for Vidarbha in familiar territory

Vidarbha, which bagged its maiden Ranji crown out of the blue in January, will have an edge over a star-studded RoI outfit due to two major factors: home advantage and more importantly, with the inclusion of India speedster Umesh Yadav, who missed the Ranji final.

Rest of India (ROI) captain Karun Nair and his team-mates train in Nagpur on Tuesday.   -  Vivek Bendre

The Twenty20 bells may have already started ringing, with the host broadcaster and the franchise having gotten into a spree of promotional campaign ahead of the Indian Premier League. But for a handful of cricketers assembled here – divided into those from the heart of the country and a mix of others all over India – IPL would be the last thing on their minds, at least for the coming week as they take the field in what used to be perhaps the most important first-class fixture in Indian domestic cricket till not so long ago.

Well, the Z.R. Irani Cup – yes, it's Cup, and not Trophy – may have lost the zeal as the final stepping stone towards earning the India cap but still, the annual fixture between the Ranji Trophy champion Vidarbha and Karun Nair-led Rest of India starting Wednesday will draw curtains on yet another gruelling and dramatic domestic season.

READ: Living his dream, Fazal hopes to clinch the title too

Vidarbha, which bagged its maiden Ranji crown out of the blue in January, will have an edge over a star-studded RoI outfit due to two major factors: home advantage of the Vidarbha Cricket Association stadium at Jamtha and more importantly, with the inclusion of India speedster Umesh Yadav, who missed the Ranji final. The home team will also hope to put an icing on the cake by signing off the season in style.

“Our first objective was to win the Ranji Trophy, we have achieved that. Then we were hoping to go into the Irani tie with a full-fledged squad, even that's happened,” Vidarbha captain Faiz Fazal said after his team's last pre-match training of the season. “The most important target now is to win the Irani Cup. We are happy to be here. We have thoroughly earned our chance to be up against a quality Rest of India side and we are all geared up for this game.”

READ: Umesh set to feature in Irani Cup

The Rest of India players, on the other hand, would be more focused on sealing a spot in the India A line-up for the off-season tours and take another stride towards an international call-up. Unlike last year, the national selectors have preferred to test the second rung rather than giving Test match regulars a hit against the Ranji champs. As a result, barring captain Karun Nair and offie Jayant Yadav, who both have lost their places in India's squad, and R. Ashwin, who over the last six months has turned into a Test specialist, not a single RoI squad member has Test-match experience.

It will be interesting to see if the RoI openers Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw can continue their impressive run. Agarwal, having tallied more than 2,000 runs in the domestic season across formats, will be gunning to shed his dejection for having been ignored for India's ongoing tri-series in Sri Lanka with another big knock. Shaw, on the other hand, will be hoping to repeat the heroics of his Mumbai senior Sachin Tendulkar of marking his Ranji, Duleep Trophy and Irani debuts with a three-figure score.

If both the openers sizzle against a Vidarbha bowling attack, led by Umesh, the home team will find it difficult to end the season on a high.

The squads:


Vidarbha: Faiz Fazal (Capt.), R. Sanjay, Wasim Jaffer, Ganesh Satish (Vice-capt.), Apoorv Wankhede, Siddhesh Wath, Akshay Wadkar (wk), Aditya Sarvae, Akshay Karnewar, Akshay Wakhare, Karn Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Rajneesh Gurbani, Yash Thakur, Aditya Thakare, Atharva Taide.

Rest of India: Karun Nair (Capt.), Prithvi Shaw, Abhimanyu Easwaran, R. Samarth, Mayank Agarwal, G. Hanuma Vihari, K.S. Bharat (wk), R. Ashwin, Jayant Yadav, Shahbaz Nadeem, Anmolpreet Singh, Siddharth Kaul, Ankit Rajpoot, Navdeep Saini, Atit Sheth.

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