Mysore, and the domestic sparkle

Incidentally, there's some overlap between the Duleep and the India A series against West Indies A too, but at least all the players are playing days' cricket at the same time - not ideal, but not as iffy as playing T20s instead!

Updated: September 16, 2013 13:15 IST
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I am not sure if many readers share my enthusiasm for domestic cricket in India, but really, what a blockbuster start we have for the upcoming season.

Sadly, the Champions League Twenty20 messes around with some of the India A matches, the entire Challenger Trophy and a bit of the Duleep Trophy - maybe the Indian teams should lose quickly! Still, there are a host of players - big and not-so-big - to watch, some interesting match-ups to track and, for people only interested in the future of the Indian cricket team, a fair bit of crystal ball-gazing to do.

Incidentally, there's some overlap between the Duleep and the India A series against West Indies A too, but at least all the players are playing days' cricket at the same time - not ideal, but not as iffy as playing T20s instead!

From past experience, most of the exchanges on social media (do we talk anywhere else these days?) will be about Yuvraj Singh in the one-dayers and Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan in the four-dayers. None of them are involved in the CLT20, but they all are part of one or the other India A teams. Getting back into the Indian team is clearly their priority, and they have proved it by spending the off-season getting into shape. Gambhir went to play in Essex, Sehwag trained at the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai, and Yuvraj and Zaheer went on a hectic six-week physical training course to France, and are back looking distinctly fitter.

None of them are shoo-ins for the Indian Test team at this stage of course, though Zaheer might feel a good show against West Indies A - fitness-wise more than ability-wise - and the other matches soon after will help him make the Test team ahead of one of the other pace options.

But that's about the big names. What about another important function of the domestic circuit - throwing up new names who can one day become big, become players who can make a mark at the first-class level for years to come?

Now, I am travelling to Mysore for the first of three four-day games that India A will play against West Indies A, and I'm all charged up about it too. No, there won't be any Gambhir, Sehwag or Zaheer; they enter the fray only for the last two games. But this team has - among others - Jiwanjot Singh, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Manprit Juneja, Parveez Rasool, Ishwar Pandey, Mohammad Shami, Ashok Dinda and Dhawal Kulkarni. And while West Indies A have a smattering of players on the fringes of selection to the national team, they don't look strong enough to take on this lot in a days' game - at least as things stand right now.

So then, a reckoning of the boys who will be performing for me in Mysore ...

They say that a great debut first-class season, while greatly admirable, is not as important as the second one and the third one and so on. Sort of like a tennis player becoming No. 1 in the world: getting there, tough though it is, is not as tough as staying there. That's the test for Jiwanjot. In the last Ranji Trophy season - his first - Jiwanjot totalled 995 runs from ten games at an average of 66.33. That's come down a little since, but still stands at a healthy 62.76.

There's ability there, without doubt. The only time I ever saw him bat, against the visiting Australians in Chennai in February, he looked calm, composed and in total control before getting out for 24. To move up the ranks, and get that good second season in, Jiwanjot would do well to start on the right foot.

Rahul is another exciting young opening batsman. He played just five games for Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy last season, but scored 400 runs at an average of 50 in those games. His first-class average of 38.84 after three seasons, where he hasn't really been a regular with the state team, isn't special. What is special is his run in the recent Under-23 series in Singapore, where he had scores of 46, 88, 51, 43 and 93 not out as India won. He's probably a notch below Jiwanjot in terms of staying power, but at just 21, as good a prospect as any.

Then there's Pujara, and you don't really need a reason to want to watch him bat, do you? There's a sort of serenity to the way he goes about his batting and, usually, he bats for long periods. So when India A bat, it will be a toss up between wanting Jiwanjot and Rahul to stay in there long enough, and wanting one of them to go early so that Pujara gets a hit against the new ball. Hmmm ... tricky.

The other young man to watch is Juneja. The 193 he made to lead India A's effort against New Zealand A in Visakhapatnam earlier this month must have raised his confidence, as well as his stocks. I liked what I saw of him in the IPL this year, where he showed quite a bit of class, and that's always at a premium in Twenty20s, isn't it?

In recent times, enough has been written and said about Rasool, and about Ishwar Pandey. The two of them bowling alongside the likes of Mohammad Shami, Ashok Dinda and Dhawal Kulkarni ought to be something of a show. I have high expectations of Shami, my boy from Bengal, and have always liked his attitude and overall conduct on the cricket field.

A friend who knows a little bit more about good batsmanship than I do, also has good things to say about Paras Dogra, the Himachal Pradesh regular, and it's nice to see him get a hit at this level too.

Exciting, isn't it? Some of these young men are more than likely to feature in India A teams and, who knows, even in the Indian team in one format or the other in the near future. Let the selectors do their job, as they will, but for us observers there's good reason to look homeward for the cricketing action as it travels around the country - starting in Mysore for me.

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