50-over format is not India’s focus in 2021, but aspirants have plenty to play for
The ICC T20 World Cup and the race to book a World Test Championship final spot are the highlights of India’s 2021 men’s cricket calendar.
The one-day format is low on the totem pole, evidenced by the fact that the Indian team will feature in only six ODIs for the rest of the year (three against England next month, and three against South Africa in September).
In these circumstances, the Vijay Hazare Trophy dips in significance.
The BCCI opted to hold the 50-over tournament in preference to the Ranji Trophy in this truncated domestic season.
As a result, the Ranji Trophy will not be held for the first time since its inception in 1934.
The 38-team Vijay Hazare Trophy, which commences on Saturday, does offer one immediate reward. Outstanding performances could lead to a national team berth for the ODIs against England.
The teams are split into six groups — six each in the Groups A to E, and eight in the Plate Group. The Elite Group matches will be held in Surat, Indore, Bengaluru, Jaipur and Kolkata, while the Plate Group fixtures will take place in Chennai.
Defending champion Karnataka, missing the services of K.L. Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Manish Pandey and K. Gowtham, faces a tough task in Group C. The side has a new skipper in R. Samarth, who has taken over from Karun Nair.
Tamil Nadu, led by Dinesh Karthik, will fancy its chances after having won the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy a few weeks ago.
Batsman Shahrukh Khan, who was signed by Punjab Kings for ₹5.25 crore at the IPL auction on Thursday, will hope to find big runs. Left-arm pacer T. Natarajan will miss the action, having been rested to stay fresh for the upcoming limited-over matches against England.
Shreyas Iyer, who sat out of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy due to a shoulder injury, will lead Mumbai, while Prithvi Shaw will serve as his deputy.
Southpaw Shikhar Dhawan is a familiar face in the Delhi squad. Former India Under-19 World Cup-winning captain Unmukt Chand returns to represent Delhi after spending a season with Uttarakhand.
All-rounder Krunal Pandya, who had to leave the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy bio-bubble due to the demise of his father, is back to lead Baroda.
The likes of Chetan Sakariya (Saurashtra), Lukman Meriwala (Baroda), Mohammed Azharuddeen (Kerala) and Sheldon Jackson (Puducherry) — uncapped players who found favour at the IPL auction — will hope to add to their growing white-ball reputation.
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