Rest is best

Proud champion... Rest of India with the cup.-PICS.: G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

Rajasthan, the Ranji champion for the last two years, was well and truly walloped by a strong Rest of India team led by Cheteshwar Pujara in under four days by an innings and 79 runs, writes Avinash Nair.

The Irani Cup as a domestic season opener or season ender?

The argument got hotter after the recent lopsided contest between the Rest of India and the reigning Ranji Trophy champion Rajasthan.

Rajasthan, the Ranji champion for the last two years, was well and truly walloped by a strong Rest of India team led by Cheteshwar Pujara in under four days by an innings and 79 runs. Not surprising but then the argument is that the Ranji champion missed four key players — Akash Chopra who has shifted allegiance to Himachal Pradesh as a pro, Ashok Menaria and Rituraj Singh who were away with the India ‘A’ team to New Zealand and Pankaj Singh who is grappling with injury.

Rest had a problem of plenty and had to bench Shikhar Dhawan, Yusuf Pathan and local lad Abhimanyu Mithun besides Parwinder Awana.

Coming into a new season there are bound to be transfers and injury woes. After the IPL in April-May the fringe players have a long lay-off and coming into a major match could cause a few fitness hiccups. And with a full season ahead, the main players would not risk aggravating their injury.

This strengthens the argument that the Board could have the Irani Cup at the end of the season, selecting the fringe players to do duty for the Rest against the newly crowned Ranji champion.

Rajasthan, which lost the last Irani Cup too, by a thumping 404 runs to a Parthiv Patel-led Rest in Jaipur, had no depth in batting or any teeth in its attack.

Apart from Hrishikesh Kanitkar, the skipper, and Robin Bist there was little or no solidity in Rajasthan’s batting. Vineet Saxena, who scored a double century against Tamil Nadu in the Ranji final, lacked the temperament to stand up against the likes of Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav. Rashmi Ranjan Parida did not impress either.

Murali Vijay... superb knock.-

Bist was easily the stand-out performer for Rajasthan with a fine century (117) in the first innings and a dogged 67 in the second while Kanitkar made a defiant 73, a valiant effort to delay the inevitable, before ridiculously running himself out.

There was no help from the track for the bowlers to cause any worries to the strong Rest of India top order. And for the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay and Subramaniam Badrinath this was the perfect platform to prove their fitness and form ahead of a daunting season.

Vijay grabbed the chance with both hands, making a brilliant 266 and was involved in three big partnerships. But his running between the wickets and pushing for the second or third run left a lot to be desired. On the third morning, left-arm pacer Aniket Choudhary did move the ball away to beat the right-hander thrice in quick succession.

Rahane and Pujara looked solid as long as they were there in the middle as did Badrinath and Dinesh Karthik, but they failed to convert the good starts into big scores.

All-rounder Stuart Binny, who had a very good season last time, failed to impress barring two quick wickets on the first morning.

Harmeet Singh, playing his first Irani match, hardly looked the bowler he was in the Under-19 World Cup in Australia recently though he accounted for four lower-order batsmen in Rajasthan’s second essay.

After the match, Pujara praised ‘Man of the Match’ Vijay’s huge knock and the bowlers for performing well on a dead track, but it should be admitted that Rajasthan was no match for the heavily loaded Rest.

THE SCORES

Rajasthan — 1st innings: A. Lamba c Rahane b Binny 29; V. Saxena c Saha b Ishant 0; H. Kanitkar lbw b Binny 8; R. Bist (not out) 117; R. R. Parida b Ishant 34; D. Yagnik lbw b Yadav 40; D. Chahar c Saha b Yadav 0; M. Khatri c Saha b Yadav 0; Gajendra Singh c Badrinath b Yadav 6; Aniket Choudhary b Yadav 0; Sumit Mathur (run out) 4; Extras (b-5, lb-7, nb-3) 15. Total: 253.

Fall of wickets: 1-13, 2-41, 3-46, 4-151, 5-218, 6-218, 7-220, 8-234, 9-238.

Rest of India bowling: Ishant 12-6-17-2, Yadav 20-7-55-5, Binny 15-2-38-2, Ojha 25.3-5-78-0, Harmeet 13-2-45-0, Badrinath 1-0-8-0.

Rest of India — 1st innings: A. Rahane (run out) 81; M. Vijay c Gajendra b Khatri 266; C. Pujara c Yagnik b Choudhary 78; S. Badrinath b Chahar 55; D. Karthik lbw b Khatri 56; W. Saha (not out) 29; S. Binny b Chahar 3; Harmeet Singh b Khatri 1; P. Ojha (not out) 0; Extras (b-14, lb-9, w-5, nb-10) 38. Total (for seven wkts., decl.): 607.

Fall of wickets: 1-173, 2-326, 3-467, 4-530, 5-596, 6-599, 7-600.

Rajasthan bowling: Choudhary 34-8-112-1, Chahar 27.1-2-99-2, Mathur 24.5-3-89-0, Gajendra 41-4-149-0, Khatri 37-4-125-3, Saxena 1-0-10-0.

Rajasthan — 2nd innings: A. Lamba c Karthik b Ishant 4; V. Saxena (run out) 18; H. Kanitkar (run out) 73; R. Bist b Ojha 67; R. R. Parida c Karthik b Harmeet 31; D. Yagnik (run out) 11; D. Chahar st. Karthik b Ojha 9; M. Khatri c Yadav b Harmeet 12; Gajendra Singh c Rahane b Harmeet 0; A. Choudhary c Yadav b Harmeet 17; S. Mathur (not out) 19. Extras (b-4, lb-8, nb-2) 14. Total: 275.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-70, 3-165, 4-180, 5-206, 6-215, 7-226, 8-226, 9-253.

Rest of India bowling: Ishant 13-3-38-1, Yadav 16-4-61-0, Binny 13-5-33-0, Ojha 32-7-83-2, Harmeet 14.2-1-45-4, Badrinath 2-0-3-0.