Soon after the Rest of India finished a gruelling net session and Saurashtra’s team meeting got over on Friday afternoon, Dharmendra Jadeja walked across to the adjoining dressing room at the Saurashtra Cricket Association stadium and gave Hanuma Vihari a hug.
The duo were teammates the last time Irani Cup – conventionally the most significant First Class fixture on the domestic calendar – was played, in February 2019. Come Saturday, they will be up against each other as Saurashtra will be looking forward to stamp their supremacy against Vihari’s Rest of India outfit.
Despite winning the Ranji Trophy in 2019-20, Saurashtra is no longer the defending Ranji champion. Still, with the BCCI allowing their cancelled Irani tie to take place at the start of the season has been the best motivation for Jaydev Unadkat’s side.
“The fact that we had to wait so long is in itself a big motivation. For us, it wasn’t only about winning the Ranji Trophy but to keep improving as a side. And this is a stepping stone,” Unadkat told The Hindu on Friday.
“Playing an Irani tie in itself is a special feeling. Playing it versus Rest of India makes it even more special. It’s an achievement in itself. We have been able to accomplish it. It’s down to what we have done in the past. Hopefully we can mentally carry on from where we left the last time we played in Rajkot (in March 2020).”
For Vihari, who will be leading Rest of India for the first time after having scored hundreds in each innings during the last tie in Nagpur, the challenge will be two-fold.
First, in consultation with the coaching staff of Shitanshu Kotak and Rajib Datta and national selectors, he will have to choose the winning combination.
It will be interesting to see the batting line-up, with five regular openers having been selected in the squad. The bigger issue will be to see whether speedsters Umran Malik and Kuldeep Sen both will be given a go along with left-armer Arzan Nagwaswalla.
The second big challenge will be to ensure the group dominated by youngsters play as a team. “I have understood the importance of this tie. Not only for selection but even with the competition within the boys, it’s a high-intensity game. I am sure the younger boys realise that,” Vihari said.
“It’s important to understand that we are here to win the game. If you are looking for personal glory, then I don’t think we can play with each other. That’s one thing I’ll try to remind them that it’s a team sport. I know that the individual performances do matter but if the team doesn’t win, then the value of the performance comes down.”
The teams (from):
Saurashtra: Jaydev Unadkat (Capt.), Sheldon Jackson, Cheteshwar Pujara, Snell Patel, Arpit Vasavada, Prerak Mankad, Chirag Jani, Harvik Desai, Samarth Vyas, Dharmendra Jadeja, Kamlesh Makwana, Kushang Patel, Chetan Sakariya, Parth Bhut, Kishan Parmar, Vishwaraj Jadeja.
Rest of India: Hanuma Vihari (Capt.), Mayank Agarwal, Priyank Panchal, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Yash Dhull, Sarfaraz Khan, Yashasvi Jaiswal, K.S. Bharat, Upendra Yadav, Jayant Yadav, Saurabh Kumar, R. Sai Kishore, Mukesh Kumar, Umran Malik, Kuldeep Sen, Arzan Nagwaswalla.