Pujara in focus as Saurashtra takes on Rest of India

Gone are those days when the Rest of India versus Ranji champion encounter used to be a virtual national team trial match, where a good performance was a sure shot ticket towards an entry into the India dressing room.
Veteran Cheteshwar Pujara
Veteran Cheteshwar PujaraReuters

RAJKOT: Veteran Cheteshwar Pujara would strive to stay relevant in the national team’s scheme of things with a purposeful knock when Saurashtra clashes with Rest of India, a side that is packed with five specialist openers, in the Irani Cup clash starting on Saturday here.

Saurashtra will be playing the Irani Cup by virtue of being the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy champion as the one-off match was not held for successive seasons due to Covid-19. Gone are those days when the Rest of India versus Ranji champion encounter used to be a virtual national team trial match, where a good performance was a sure shot ticket towards an entry into the India dressing room.

The Irani Cup in 2022 is more about being in the scheme of things as far as the reserve pool is concerned and the Rest of India squad comprises players who featured in the recent A series against New Zealand. Meanwhile, the Saurashtra team has a battle-hardened pro in Pujara, whose Test career is at the crossroads. So, he would not like to put a foot wrong before the away series in Bangladesh.

Pujara had a dream run for English county Sussex in both red ball and white ball matches, but whether the selectors will persist with him in Tests going forward is another matter. On his home ground where he has scored truckloads of runs, Pujara can prove to be more than a handful for young speed guns like Umran Malik, Kuldeep Sen, Arzan Nagwaswalla or the upcoming spinners namely R Sai Kishore and Saurabh Kumar.

However, the primary problem that Rest of India faces is having too many openers. There is India A pair of Priyank Panchal and Abhimanyu Easwaran that did well against New Zealand A while Yashasvi Jaiswal was in regal form in the Duleep Trophy, scoring 265 in the final. Then, there is Test opener Mayank Agarwal, who is trying to make a comeback, and young Yash Dhull who scored 770 runs in five first class games in his debut season.

Skipper Hanuma Vihari and in-form Sarfaraz Khan are the only specialist batters apart from keeper KS Bharat. The Saurashtra bowling attack will be manned by Jaydev Unadkat, a pro in domestic cricket. There is another left-arm pacer, Chetan Sakariya, who will bring the ball back into the right-handed batters. On a slow batting surface, the spinners of both sides will come into play from the third day onwards.

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