From the publishers of THE HINDU
Vol. 24 :: No. 44 :: Nov. 03 - 09, 2001
Not many gains from season-openerVIJAY LOKAPALLY
THE premier match of India's domestic cricket evoked a regal response from one of its most gifted cricketers but it was a pity that the performance was not watched by the National selectors who had left the venue on the fourth day. It may not have mattered to them because they had not assembled to watch V. V. S. Laxman, the skipper of the Rest of India team, which retained the title in a convincing fashion.
V. V. KRISHNAN
The Irani Cup for years had come to be regarded as the selection trial, announcing the start of the season. The best of the talent was on display as the selectors looked around for raising the standard of the bench strength. There was, however, not much to be gained from this match because the performances came from cricketers already figuring in the scheme of things.
The selectors were quite forthcoming in discussing their policies for the season and there was enough indication that consistency was going to play a vital role. "We want to look at creating a pool with the next World Cup in mind. The exercise won't be accomplished overnight but we're willing to give the youngsters a fair chance to prove their mettle," said selection committee chairman, Mr. Chandu Borde.
Laxman's blazing knock on the final day was the most notable in this match which also saw Dinesh Mongia push his claims strongly. "There is no vacancy in the middle order," remarked one selector, dropping a hint that Mongia, who hit 125 and 90 not out in this match, might still struggle to earn any appreciation from the selectors for a slot in the national team.
The selectors, however, were not fair in picking the Rest playing eleven. The exclusion of Yere Goud left the Railways batsman disappointed. The highest run-getter of last season could not even get to play the Irani Cup. Among those who played and yet failed to make an impact were openers Akash Chopra and Vinayak Mane, left-arm spinner Rahul Sanghvi and left-arm seamer Salabh Srivastava, who broke down after bowling just 4.5 overs.
Baroda, which won the Ranji Trophy final against Railways last season, was a depleted side. Missing from its ranks were left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan and batsman Jacob Martin. All-rounder Ajit Bohite had shifted to Railways but credit to the Ranji champion that it managed to give the Rest a stiff fight until Laxman's class and Dinesh Mongia's determination thwarted its plans.
The selection of the Rest of India team showed the emphasis on youth as efforts were on to pick and groom bowlers keeping in mind the fact that Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad would struggle to make it to the World Cup team. The selectors appeared convinced that they had to invest in youth and it was appropriate time to begin the scouting programme.
One youngster who made a big impression on the selectors was Tinu Yohannan, the gangling fast bowler from Kerala. His aggressive attitude was a welcome change and it stood out because this was Yohannan's first big match. "He's raw" commented a selector but agreed that among the youngsters on view he was the most talented. For Sanjay Jagdale, the selector from Central Zone, the outstanding feature of Yohannan's bowling was his strength. "He's a strong lad and bowled with enthusiasm even in the last hour of the day," said Mr. Jagdale with colleague Mr. Shivlal Yadav nodding in agreement.
Yohannan got two wickets in each innings but deserved much more. The most successful Baroda batsman, Connor Williams, was lucky to earn a reprieve when Laxman grassed a sitter with the batsman on six. Williams was given five more 'lives' in his innings of 143 which saw Baroda post a challenging total. In the second innings, Williams produced a flawless effort but not enough to pave the way for a win.
If Rest won the first round by claiming the first innings lead the credit lay with Dinesh Mongia. "He batted with great responsibility. It was actually his innings which gave us the stage to fight. It was a team effort no doubt but Dinesh had a major role to play," said Laxman, playing down his own effort which flattened Baroda's hopes.
For off-spinner Sarandeep Singh, the venue brought back memories of his splendid Test debut at the VCA Stadium. "He's the best off-spinner in the country," commented one selector as Sarandeep picked five Baroda wickets in the first innings, foxing two victims with the drifter. Sarandeep added three more wickets in the second innings with Williams' dismissal coming at a very crucial stage. "I enjoyed bowling on this track. It's always good to start the season with wickets against your name," said Sarandeep. The pitch came in for praise from both the skippers even if it was two-paced on the last three days. "Such pitches bring out the best out of you and test your skills to the full," said Williams, who could draw satisfaction from his individual show in this match.
The other man who served Baroda well was left-arm spinner Valmik Buch. His five-wicket haul in the first innings was a statement of his potential as he foxed the batsmen in the air, especially the ball with which he accounted for Laxman. But the Hyderabadi won the battle in the second innings when he picked Buch for special treatment, blasting him for 13 fours and two sixes. Laxman's charge on Buch was the deciding factor as the rest of the Baroda bowlers lacked the ability to make any dents in the Rest camp.
Dinesh Mongia was adjudged the 'man of the match' but the most sensational performance came from Laxman, who hit his second consecutive century in the Irani Cup, having cracked a classy 167 against Mumbai last year.
The Rest of India was clearly the better side but Baroda had its moments too. "If only we had taken Laxman's catch," said Williams, referring to the catch spilled on the fourth day when the batsman was on 12. The Rest captain could have pointed the six chances that Williams got in his first innings. "It's all part of the game," said Laxman. "What matters most is how you use the chances," he added. The Hyderabadi capitalised by playing a matchwinning effort which was an ideal warm-up for him prior to the Test series in South Africa. Baroda was beaten but not disgraced while Rest was a fitting winner of the 2001 edition of the Irani Cup.
Baroda 318 (Connor Williams 143, Nayan Mongia 31, Himanshu Jadhav 43, Rakesh Patel 44, Sarandeep Singh five for 78) and 285 (Connor Williams 83, Nayan Mongia 52, Himanshu Jadhav 43, Irfan Pathan Jr. 32, Sarandeep Singh three for 75) lost to Rest of India 331 (Vinayak Mane 48, Dinesh Mongia 125, Ajay Ratra 61, Valmik Buch five for 94, Irfan Pathan Jr. three for 95) and 273 for four (V.V.S. Laxman 148, Dinesh Mongia 90 not out).
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