Mayank Agarwal, the highest run-getter of the recently-concluded Ranji Trophy season, is set to lead Rest of India in the Irani Cup fixture against Madhya Pradesh starting on March 1 in Gwalior. The match was initially set to be played in Indore, but had to be shifted to Gwalior after the third India-Australia Test was allotted to the Holkar Stadium. The Irani Cup game will be the first first-class game in Gwalior in more than six years.
The most notable absentee in the 16-member squad, which is yet to officially be announced by the BCCI, is Mumbai’s Sarfaraz Khan. ESPNcricinfo understands Sarfaraz, a prolific run-getter for the last three seasons, has been advised eight to ten days of rest for a finger injury he sustained while playing in the DY Patil T20 Cup in Mumbai. Sarfaraz is currently nursing the injury at a fitness camp organised by Delhi Capitals in Kolkata.
Agarwal, who is looking to reclaim his Test spot after falling out of favour in June last year, is likely to be partnered by Bengal opener Abhimanyu Easwaran. Abhimanyu is also looking to earn a breakthrough after having been part of the Test squad in Bangladesh in December. Prior to that, he was India A captain on the shadow tour to Bangladesh, where he hit two back-to-back hundreds.
Sudip Kumar Gharami, Yashasvi Jaiswal, B Indrajith and Yash Dhull are among the other top-order batters in the Rest of India squad. Gharami and Abhimanyu were sixth and seventh in the Ranji top-run-getters list with 803 and 798 runs respectively in Bengal’s runners-up finish.
Only two members of the title-winning Saurashtra team have been picked: wicketkeeper-opener Harvik Desai and left-arm seamer Chetan Sakariya. It’s likely Desai will be the second stumper behind Uttar Pradesh’s Upendra Yadav, who has already been part of several India A tours over the last two years.
The fast-bowling unit is well-rounded with Bengal’s pace duo of Mukesh Kumar and Akash Deep joining Sakariya and Delhi’s Navdeep Saini in a four-man attack. Saini will be making a return from an abdominal muscle strain he picked up on the India A tour of Bangladesh. Baroda’s Atith Sheth is the lone seam-bowling allrounder in the mix.
Two of the season’s top wicket-takers, Jalaj Saxena (Kerala allrounder) and Shams Mulani (Mumbai allrounder), find themselves missing the bus despite picking up 50 and 46 wickets respectively. The selection panel of SS Das, S Sharath, Salil Ankola and Subroto Bannerjee, instead, picked Uttar Pradesh left-arm spinner Saurabh Kumar and Punjab legspinner Mayank Markande.
A likely reason Markande finds himself in the mix despite picking up only 22 wickets from seven games is that the selectors are keen to give chances to legspinners in red-ball cricket. Markande’s nearest competitors are Ravi Bishnoi and Rahul Chahal. Bishnoi played just one game for Rajasthan, while Chahar didn’t play at all.
Madhya Pradesh, meanwhile, will be led by wicketkeeper-batter Himanshu Mantri in the absence of regular captain Aditya Shrivastava. Much of the core group that won the Ranji Trophy in June last year has been retained, with Rajat Patidar, Venkatesh Iyer, Avesh Khan, Shubham Sharma and Yash Dubey all in the mix.
Madhya Pradesh, the champions of the 2021-22 season, were initially slated to play their Irani Cup game at the start of the 2022-23 season. However, the match was later allotted to Saurashtra, the winners in 2019-20, as they were denied the opportunity to host the Irani Cup because of the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic a week after their maiden triumph in March 2020.