Vidarbha have been unstoppable for the past two years. The likes of Karnataka and Saurashtra, enriched with international experience succumbed to the might of Vidarbha, who haven't lost a match in over two years.
On Tuesday, they face off against a formidable Rest of India side, led by Ajinkya Rahane with the Irani Cup on the line. The match presents an opportunity for India's hopefuls and fringe players to stake their claim for a senior squad inclusion while for some it provides an opportunity to reinstate their credentials and prove their critics wrong.
With the scenic Nagpur hosting this monumental match, will the home side defend the Irani Cup against the best of the rest?
Squads to choose from:
Faiz Fazal (C), Sanjay Ramaswamy, Wasim Jaffer, Ganesh Satish, Aditya Sarwate, Akshay Wadkar(WK), Mohit Kale, Umesh Yadav, Rajneesh Gurbani, Akshay Wakhare, Akshay Karnewar, Atharwa Taide, Shrikant Wagh, Aditya Thakare, Lalit M Yadav, Yash Thakur.
Rest of India:
Ajinkya Rahane(C), Mayank Agarwal, Anmolpreet Singh, Shreyas Iyer, Rinku Singh, Hanuma Vihari, Krishnappa Gowtham, TM Ul-Haq, Ishan Kishan, Snell Patel, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Rahul Chahar, Ankit Rajpoot, Ronit More and Sandeep Warrier.
Playing XI Updates:
After a brilliant performance to win the Ranji Trophy 2018-19 edition, no changes are expected in the Vidarbha side that played in the final. Spin is likely to play a major role once again with Wakhare and Sarwate picking 18 wickets out of a possible 20 in the final while they can also count on the pace and swing of Umesh Yadav to provide the breakthroughs at the moment of need.
In the Irani Cup last year, Vidarbha pummeled the Rest of India bowlers with Wasim Jaffer proving age is just a number with a vintage double hundred. An encore of the same is expected from the veteran and other senior players such as Faiz Fazal and Ganesh Satish.
Possible XI: Fazal(C), Ramaswamy, Jaffer, Satish, Kale, Wadkar(WK), Sarwate, Karnewar, Umesh, Gurbani and Wakhare.
Rest of India:
Led by the Indian vice captain, Ajinkya Rahane, Rest of India are quite strong on paper with the likes of Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari and Dharmendrasinh Jadeja in their ranks. All of the selected players are in fine form and would cause a selection headache or two before the toss.
With spin likely to play a part in the match, Jadeja and Gowtham pick themselves with the option of Rahul Chahar also looming large. Ajinkya Rahane should slot in at number four with Hanuma Vihari taking up the number three slot in all likelihood. Mayank Agarwal would be key to the team's fortunes with his recent exploits in Australia fresh on everyone's minds.
Possible XI: Agarwal, Anmolpreet, Vihari, Rahane(C), Iyer, Kishan(WK), Gowtham, Jadeja, Chahar, Rajpoot, Warrier/Ul-Haq.
Fantasy Tips and Suggestions:
Wicket-keeper: Ishan Kishan is the preferred choice for the wicket-keeper slot with the diminutive south-paw capable of scoring some quick runs batting deep down the order. Akshay Wadkar is also a good option if Kishan's batting position is a put off.
Batsmen: Two of Wasim Jaffer, Faiz Fazal and Sanjay Ramaswamy are great options to go for considering their ability to play spin at their home ground. Mayank Agarwal is in red hot form in the domestic circuit for over two years and is a must have in the side. Either of Ajinkya Rahane or Anmolpreet Singh could also prove to be quite handy.
All-rounders: Quality spin-bowling all-rounders are the key to this fantasy contest. Dharmendrasinh Jadeja and Aditya Sarwate were inspirational in the Ranji Trophy final while both of them justify their selections with 59 and 55 wickets this season while standing 2nd and 3rd in the wicket takers charts. Hanuma Vihari should bat at number three and with his handy off-spin, he is a viable option to go for.
Bowlers: Akshay Wakhare and Umesh Yadav are invaluable assets to any team with the latter putting in man-of-the-match performances in the quarter and semi-finals en route to the Ranji Trophy win. With uncertainty over the second pace option, Ankit Rajpoot is the ideal option to round off the team with his swing a key asset to any team.
Captain: Aditya Sarwate and Dharmendrasinh Jadeja are set to resume their battle from the Ranji Trophy and considering the nature of the pitch, both of them are great options to have as captain. Hanuma Vihari and Mayank Agarwal are a few options to look into in case of a need for another dependable option to opt for captaincy.
Fantasy Suggestion #1: Ishan Kishan (WK), Faiz Fazal, Wasim Jaffer, Anmolpreet Singh, Mayank Agarwal, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Aditya Sarwate, Hanuma Vihari, Umesh Yadav, Akshay Wakhare and Ankit Rajpoot. Captain: Aditya Sarwate
Fantasy Suggestion #2: Akshay Wadkar, Wasim Jaffer, Sanjay Ramaswamy, Mayank Agarwal, Ajinkya Rahane, Krishnappa Gowtham, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Krishnappa Gowtham, Umesh Yadav, Akshay Wakhare and Rahul Chahar. Captain: Mayank Agarwal