| Though not named initially, Harbhajan’s keenness has forced a rethink
Bangalore: A new domestic cricket season starts on Wednesday with the TVS Challenger Series, a competition that this year boasts of the presence of the top guns and offers a chance to talented players to break into the national side.
Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar will all be there, lending respectability to the day-night tournament of one-day games. After a strenuous 13-day physical fitness camp followed by a six-day preparatory gathering, the Indian probables are eager to go out in the middle and perform.
With Sourav putting his teammates on notice by saying none could take his place for granted and one or two slots are up for grabs, competition in the Challenger is expected to be intense, particularly with respect to aspirants eyeing the slots of opener and wicketkeeper.
The team management is looking for an opener and a wicketkeeper who can also contribute with the bat. Sourav said performance in the Challenger Series, Irani Cup and the two warm-up games before the two-Test series against New Zealand will be the key to selection.
The national team stars have been distributed in the three teams — India Senior, India A and India B, led by Sourav, Anil Kumble and Dravid, respectively. John Wright, Sandeep Patil and Ashok Malhotra are the coaches.
Selection committee chairman Brijesh Patel said off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who was earlier not considered for selection on fitness grounds, has been picked for India Senior as he is very keen to play.
Sarandeep Singh, who was part of the India Senior team, has been moved to India B, Patel said. Akash Chopra, named in the Senior team, has been omitted. He has a knee injury as well.
In the opening encounter on Wednesday, India Senior take on India A. On Thursday, India Senior meet India B, and on Saturday India A clash with India B.
Wright said the Challenger Series will offer a great opportunity to fringe players. “The three sides are evenly balanced and matched. It offers a great opportunity for fringe players to stake a claim. It is a competitive situation.”
Dravid said it was the beginning of an exciting season for Indian cricket, adding the players are raring to go out in the middle after a long break. Kumble said the sides were evenly balanced and he expected some good, hard cricket. Wright said special emphasis was given this time to ensure all three sides were well matched as the selectors were keen on “even competition.”
India Senior: Sourav Ganguly (captain), V.V.S. Laxman, Hemang Badani, A.T. Rayudu, Sanjay Bangar, Parthiv Patel, Amit Mishra, Murali Kartik, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, L. Balaji, Reetinder Singh Sodhi.
India A: Anil Kumble (captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Rohan Gavaskar, Mohammed Kaif, Wasim Jaffer, Sridharan Sriram, Ajay Ratra, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Mithun Minhas, Ramesh Powar.
India B: Rahul Dravid (captain), Shiv Sundar Das, Satyajit Parab, Vijay Bharadwaj, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Mongia, V.S. Thilak Naidu, Jai Prakash Yadav, Avishkar Salvi, Siddharth Trivedi, Sarandeep Sigh, Sairaj Bahutule, Amit Bhandari.