Performances do count here

On top... Rest of India players celebrate with the Irani Cup.-VIVEK BENDRE

The Irani Cup has always been crucial for both the players and selectors. It wasn’t any different this time. By G. Viswanath.

There was a time when India’s first-class cricketers regarded the Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy and the Irani Cup as stepping-stones to Test cricket. Take the case of Dilip Vengsakar. The former India batsman did not bat in the first innings on his Ranji Trophy debut against Gujarat in Valsad in October 1975 and was dismissed by Dhiraj Parsana for zero in the second.

However, within a few days, Bombay travelled to Nagpur for the Irani Cup match against Rest of India and the game proved to be the turning point in the lean, elegant batsman’s career. Vengsarkar, as a 19-year-old, scored 110 against a Rest of India attack that had Madan Lal, Anwar Shaikh, Bishen Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and leg-spinner Ashwini Minna.

Vengsarkar, who earned the sobriquet ‘Colonel’ because some thought he resembled Col. C. K. Nayudu, promptly got the nod from the National selectors for the overseas tours of New Zealand and West Indies after playing only seven first-class matches.

Almost 15 years later, the chairman of the selection committee, Rajsingh Dungarpur, out of sheer joy for Ravi Mammen’s initiative, the MRF Pace Foundation in Madras, and also upon hearing the encouraging news from the Foundation, chose two trainees, Vivek Razdan and Rajiv Seth, for the Rest of India squad for the Irani Cup that was billed as the selection trial for the 1989-90 tour of Pakistan. Razdan took two for 75 and Seth one for 55 in the match played at the Wankhede Stadium as the young, skinny Sachin Tendulkar made 103 not out. Razdan and Tendulkar were picked for the tour of Pakistan.

Quite interestingly, 23 years later at the same venue, Razdan, as a commentator for the official broadcaster, interviewed Tendulkar after the batsman had scored an unbeaten 140 for Mumbai!

Master at work... Sachin Tendulkar executes a magnificent cover drive during his unbeaten knock of 140 in the first innings.-PTI

So, performances in the Irani Cup — played between the Ranji Trophy champion and Rest of India — always lent some value to the players, while they also helped the selectors to decide on the National team.

Mumbai batsmen Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Abhishek Nayar and bowler Dhawal Kulkarni were in the running for slots in the Indian team for the forthcoming Test series against Australia, as were the players from Rest of India, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina, Manoj Tiwary and Harbhajan Singh. The selectors also included seamers Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Abhimanyu Mithun and Ishwar Pandey to widen the scope of selection.

Rest of India chose to bat first and openers Vijay and Dhawan made 144 against a seam attack that had an experienced hand in Kulkarni. Following his haul of 14 wickets in the Ranji Trophy semi-finals and final, Kulkarni had come into the reckoning for a place in the Indian team. Vijay, a first reserve in the four-Test series against England, clinched his place with his second Irani Cup century (116, 206 balls, 17x4, 1x6). He had started the season with a big knock of 266 against Rajasthan. Dhawan struck 11 fours in his 101-ball 63.

There were two more century-makers for Rest of India in the match. Raina — not considered after the two-Test home series against New Zealand — shared his thoughts with the media on how important the match was for him to reclaim his place in the Test squad. He took his time to make a valuable 134 (286 minutes, 169 balls, 14x4, 5x6) in the first innings and 71 in the second. Ambati Rayudu showed his class, scoring 51 in the first innings and 156 not out (289 balls, 12x4, 4x6) in the second.

Wasim Jaffer... unlucky to miss the Test bus despite a glorious century in the second innings.-VIVEK BENDRE

There was quite an interesting battle between Sreesanth and Tendulkar that only confirmed the Kerala seamer’s determination to put in the hard yards to get back into the Indian team. The duel also brought to the fore the champion batsman’s fierce resolve. Chasing Rest of India’s 526, Mumbai had opportunities to surpass the total. However, barring Tendulkar’s first-rate unbeaten 140 (187 balls, 18x4, 2x6) and sizeable contributions from Jaffer, Rahane and Ankeet Chavan, none of the other batsmen made the opportunity count. Jaffer also made a superb unbeaten 101 (141 balls, 10x4) in the second innings.

The likes of Rayudu, Sreesanth, Ishwar Pandey, Mithun and Kulkarni may have made the selectors take note of their efforts in a crucial match that Rest of India won by virtue of its first innings lead.

It was Rest of India’s eighth win in a row and 26th overall. Skipper Harbhajan said it is always the first innings lead that matters in such matches. “There was not even a spot on the pitch for a team to take 20 wickets. Bounce is special here. I am happy we got the first innings lead,” he said.

Yet again, it was an Irani Cup match that brought good news to Vijay, Dhawan and Harbhajan and disappointment to players such as Jaffer and Kulkarni, who were not named in the Indian team for the first two Tests against Australia, and Rohit Sharma and Nayar for not delivering when it mattered most.

THE SCORES

Irani Cup (2012-13) – Mumbai v Rest of India, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, February 6-10.

Rest of India wins on first innings lead.

Rest of India 526 (S. Dhawan 63, M. Vijay 116, M. K. Tiwary 37, A. T. Rayudu 51, S. K. Raina 134, A. Mithun 51, D. S. Kulkarni 2-107, A. M. Nayar 2-70, A. A. Chavan 3-56) and 389 for five declared (M. Vijay 35, M. K. Tiwary 69, A. T. Rayudu 156 not out, S. K. Raina 71, W. P. Saha 20 not out, V. V. Dabholkar 2-97) drew with Mumbai 409 (W. Jaffer 80, A. M. Rahane 83, S. R. Tendulkar 140 not out, A. A. Chavan 49, I. C. Pandey 2-76, A. Mithun 2-73, P. P. Ojha 2-103, Harbhajan Singh 3-64) and 160 for four (W. Jaffer 101 not out, A. M. Rahane 25, Harbhajan Singh 2-38).