Covid-19 had threatened to make the 2020-21 Indian domestic cricket season null and void. Eventually, the BCCI, in consultation with state associations, decided to set the ball rolling. The Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament, to be played from January 10-31, serves as a curtain-raiser. There’s no certainty about the Ranji Trophy and/or the Vijay Hazare Trophy. The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, too, would be different this time – players and coaching staff in bio-bubbles across seven cities, under strict Covid protocols.
Five rounds of Covid tests
BCCI secretary Jay Shah’s communiqué to all affiliated units stipulated five rounds of Covid tests during the tournament. To start with, Elite Group A, B, C, D and E have six teams each with Bangalore, Kolkata, Baroda, Indore and Mumbai as their respective venues for group league matches. Eight Plate Group teams will play in Chennai. After the teams assembled at their respective venues on January 2, three rounds of Covid tests have been conducted. The group phase ends on January 19 followed by two more rounds of Covid tests before the knockouts are played in Ahmedabad from January 26. The BCCI has only allowed Indian Premier League (IPL) talent scouts, selectors and staging association members at match venues.
Because of the pandemic, the BCCI has allowed the teams to have 22-member squads. This has augured well for Sachin Tendulkar’s son Arjun, a left-arm seamer by occupation. Although Mumbai have stars like Suryakumar Yadav, Shivam Dube, Dhawal Kulkarni, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Sarfaraz Khan, Arjun is expected to be the cynosure of all eyes. The Mumbai selection committee included him in the squad after the Indian board allowed the squad strength expansion from 20 to 22.
Return of Bhuvi
Of late, Bhuvneshwar Kumar has become a tad injury-prone. The latest was a thigh muscle injury suffered during the IPL in the United Arab Emirates in October. The medium pacer hasn’t played international cricket for more than a year now and the injury had abruptly ended his IPL season. The 30-year-old is now ready for a comeback, for Uttar Pradesh in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. It is learnt that Kumar, doing his rehab at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, has informed the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association about playing a few matches during the latter half of the tournament. Priyam Garg will lead the team which also has Suresh Raina, who had opted out of the last IPL.
Dhawan and Ishant for Delhi
Delhi will field a star-studded side, with Shikhar Dhawan and Ishant Sharma available. A side strain suffered at Delhi Capitals nets had cut short Ishant’s IPL stint last year. It also ruled him out of the Test series in Australia. The experienced fast bowler has now fully recovered from the injury.
Ahmedabad’s growing importance
Ahmedabad, boasting of the new Sardar Patel Stadium with a seating capacity of 1,10,000, will host all four quarterfinals, two semifinals and the final of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. The BCCI has also announced that Ahmedabad will host two Tests and five T20 Internationals during England’s tour of India in February-March.
Bengal’s new captain
The Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) has appointed Anustup Majumdar as Bengal captain for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy replacing Abhimanyu Easwaran. The latter led the team last season and guided Bengal to a Ranji Trophy runner-up finish. Easwaran, however, had a lean season with the bat, a reason why the Bengal selectors decided to make the change. Only a few seasons ago, Majumdar was playing for Railways. After Sourav Ganguly became CAB president, he convinced the 36-year-old to return to his home state.
The India U-19 team that won the 2008 World Cup in Malaysia had Virat Kohli as its captain. Iqbal Abdulla was the leading Indian wicket-taker in that tournament with 10 scalps. The left-arm spinner, however, has become a sort of cricketing nomad in domestic circuit in recent times. From Mumbai, he went to Sikkim and now has been appointed Uttarakhand’s captain for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Along with the 31-year-old, Uttarakhand have roped in Samad Fallah and Jay Bista as guest players. Former India opener Wasim Jaffer is their head coach.
Why is Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy important?
When the BCCI had asked for feedback from all affiliated units about possible options for domestic cricket in a pandemic-hit season, a vast majority chose the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy as their first preference. Like a West Zone state association president told this paper, logistical and bio-security challenges for a longer period could be an impediment in organising the Ranji Trophy. With the IPL auction for the upcoming season likely to be held in mid-February, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy assumes greater importance for cricketers and IPL franchises.
Baroda vice-captain Hooda leaves team after tiff with Pandya
Baroda vice-captain Deepak Hooda pulled himself out of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy after allegedly falling out with team captain Krunal Pandya during a training session on Saturday. The two allegedly had an argument at the nets on the eve of the tournament after which Hooda left the bio-bubble. In his email to Baroda Cricket Association, accessed by The Sunday Express, Hooda even accused Pandya of “threatening” him.
“Today I was practising in (the) nets and doing my preparation for tomorrow’s game with the permission of Head Coach Mr. Prabhakar. Then Krunal came in (the) nets, started misbehaving language (sic) with me. Then he stopped my practice showing his Dada Giri. He (Pandya) is trying to pull me down all the time in the field. He is threatening me ‘how you will play for Baroda, I will see you’,” Hooda, who has played 123 T20 matches, wrote in his mail to BCA. The state association secretary Ajit Lele confirmed the receipt of the mail, saying that “decision will be taken soon”.