The Telegraph
Friday , September 21 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pace holds key for Irani rivals

Bangalore: Irani Cup has ceased to be the high-profile domestic season opener that it used to be. The barrage international fixtures nowadays mean that most of the top players are missing from action. It is not different this time. Ranji champions Rajasthan and Rest of India lock horns from Friday, at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, for this season’s Irani Cup.

But still, not everything is off-colour. The Rest of India (ROI) side has six members of the Test squad that recently faced New Zealand, and start overwhelming favourites to retain a trophy they have won in each of the last six years.

With domestic run-machines Cheteshwar Pujara, Subramaniam Badrinath and Ajinkya Rahane in the Rest of India line-up, Rajasthan have a huge challenge ahead. Wriddhiman Saha, India’s back-up Test wicketkeeper, and Dinesh Karthik will be there. So will be opener Shikhar Dhawan, who will have fond memories of last year’s Irani Cup, after hitting 150-plus in both innings.

Rajasthan, on the other hand, will be without three of their best bets. While veteran opener Aakash Chopra has moved his base to Himachal, middle-order batsman Ashok Menaria and fast bowler Rituraj Singh (26 wickets in four Ranji games last season) are with the A side in New Zealand.

Interestingly, Rest of India captain Cheteshwar Pujara and his Rajasthan counterpart Hrishikesh Kanitkar have a similar strategy for the match — to unleash their respective pace batteries on the opposition. Pujara said that he will be going in with three pacers. “Our fast bowlers may get help from the wicket on the first two days as we had seen in the Test match against New Zealand.”