The Vijay Hazare Trophy 2018-19 will see the start of the BCCI's most packed and extensive domestic season to date, with 37 teams competing. While the season officially started with the Duleep Trophy, the momentous changes brought in by the Lodha Committee and enforced by the Supreme Court will only be seen now, with nine new teams added to the mix and 160 matches to be played from September 19 to October 20.
Even with so many matches, teams and players, though, there will be some on whom the spotlight will inevitably shine brighter. The World Cup is less than eight months away, and the Indian ODI side still has places up for grabs. With a good bank of matches in it, the Vijay Hazare Trophy presents a chance to build CVs that the selectors can keep on top of the pile if spots open up in the national team.
Spots in focus
The claimants for No. 4 and No. 6
On Monday, Rohit Sharma said India are looking to seal the No. 4 and 6 slots. In addition to the contenders part of the Asia Cup squad, a few other players will also fancy their chances. Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer and Suresh Raina lead the list, having played for India in 2018, and been tried at those positions.
Rahane, who is leading Mumbai, has historically found strike rate to be his chief problem. If the World Cup is played on flat pitches that have been rolled out for white-ball cricket in England, the team will need someone who can get on with it and even explode when needed. Even in the IPL, where he opens the innings, Rahane's strike rate across the last two seasons has been only 118.24.
Iyer made a decent fist of his chances at the international level, but not done enough to cement a spot, and unlike a Manish Pandey, he didn't collar attacks in recent matches for India A either. Raina, the Uttar Pradesh captain, was picked for the ODIs against England after not playing a single 50-over match through 2016 and 2017. His IPL numbers weren't overwhelmingly good either, but he offered a bowling option in the top six that India were desperately looking for. It didn't come off though, with Raina failing in the ODIs and back on the exit route.
The Pant factor
Regardless of his batting form, MS Dhoni remains the first-choice wicketkeeper. The selectors have also picked Dinesh Karthik as Dhoni's back-up. But Rishabh Pant (Delhi) with his explosive batting, on display even in the Test series against England, cannot be ignored. Pant's List A strike from 2017 onwards is 111.42. He's been even more irresistible in the IPL, hitting at 170.73 in the last two seasons at an average of 38.89. He can almost make a case for playing on the strength of his batting alone.
Who will be the back-up for Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar?
Khaleel Ahmed and Shardul Thakur are at the Asia Cup, while Siddarth Kaul, Avesh Khan and Prasidh Krishna were called up to help out in the nets there. Apart from them, Deepak Chahar (Rajasthan) and Mohammed Siraj (Hyderabad) will be the ones to watch out for. During the 2018 IPL, Chahar showed that he could hit the ball some way, too. Siraj sparkled in the recently concluded A series against Australia A and South Africa A, albeit with the red ball. But his career average in List A cricket is 20.78, and he has made picking wickets a habit with the white ball too. He's also added strength and a yard of pace in the past season.
Although Axar Patel has been preferred as the third spinner in the Indian squad, the pair of Krunal Pandya (Baroda) and Ravindra Jadeja (Saurashtra) will still think they have the potential to challenge for that spot.
Krunal was recently called up to the Indian squad to replace Washington Sundar (who is not playing the Vijay Hazare Trophy due to injury) for the T20Is in England. In the IPL, where he plays for Mumbai Indians, Krunal has emerged as among the most consistent allrounders. He's able to hit big in the lower order, and has been parsimonious with the ball. His economy rate over the last two IPL seasons is 6.95 - phenomenal given he doesn't bowl only in the middle overs.
As for Jadeja, although he has not recently been part of India's limited-overs squads, he showed as recently as the last Test that he's still a gun fielder with fitness and athleticism intact. His challenge will be to prove he's still a force with the ball. His white-ball form has not been particularly encouraging, but the spell out of the team could have given Jadeja the rest needed to rediscover his zip as a limited-overs bowler. He'll also have to show that he's still capable of cameos with the bat down the order.
New Format, New Entrants
The format for the Vijay Hazare Trophy will have nine teams each in Groups A and B, and ten teams in Group C. All the new entrants will be in the Plate Group. Each group will play a round-robin league among themselves, to be followed by the knockouts.
For Group C and the Plate Group, it's fairly straightforward: the top two teams in C and the top team in Plate will go through to the quarter-finals.
For Groups A and B, it's a bit more complex. The top five teams from both groups combined will go through to the quarterfinals. This effectively means that in theory at least, you could have all five teams coming from just one group. If, say, five teams in A all have more points at the end of the league stage than the top-most team in B, none from B will go through. For the teams themselves, this adds an extra element of strategy (or headache, if you will) of tracking how things are going in the other group, especially in the last few rounds.
The new entrants also means that there is the danger of some very lopsided matches, and the opportunity for some records to fall.
List of domestic transfers
Karn Sharma - Andhra (from Vidarbha)
Harpreet Singh Bhatia - Chhattisgarh (from MP)
Krishna Das - Goa (from Assam)
Amit Verma - Goa (from Assam)
Urvil Patel - Gujarat (from Baroda)
Irfan Pathan - J&K (from Baroda)
Chandrakant Sakure - Railways (from MP)
Madhur Khatri - Railways (from Rajasthan)
Rajat Paliwal - Services (from Haryana)
Arjun Sharma - Services (from HP)
Abhishek Tiwari - Services (from UP)
Harmeet Singh - Tripura (from J&K)
Bravish Shetty - Tripura (from Mumbai)
Professionals and transfers for new teams:
Puducherry: Fabid Ahmed (from Kerala), Thalaivan Sargunam (from TN), Nikhilesh Surendran (from Kerala), Sagar Trived (from Mumbai), Shashank Singh (from Mumbai), Iqlas Naha (from Kerala), Abdul Safar (from Kerala) Professionals - Abhishek Nayar (from Mumbai), Pankaj Singh (from Rajasthan), Paras Dogra (from HP)
Bihar: Ashish Sinha (from Jharkhand), Keshav Kumar (from Jharkhand), Samar Quadri (from Jharkhand) Professionals - Ashutosh Aman (from Services), Pragyan Ojha (from Hyderabad)
Nagaland: Rongsen Jonathan (from Railways), Nitesh Lochab (from Delhi), Hokaito Zhimomi (from Assam) Professionals - Abrar Kazi (from Karnataka), KB Pawan (from Karnataka), Pawan Suyal (from Delhi)
Arunachal Pradesh: Professional - Kshitiz Sharma (from Delhi)
Uttarakhand: Saurabh Rawat (from Odisha) Professionals - Rajat Bhatia (from Rajasthan), Malolan Rangarajan (from TN), Vineet Saxena (from Rajasthan)
Manipur: Professionals - Yashpal Singh (from Tripura), Hrithik Kanojia (from Delhi), Lakhan Arjun Rawat (from UP)
Meghalaya: Mark Ingty (from Assam), Raj Biswa (from Tripura), Jason Lamare (from Assam) Professionals - Puneet Bisht (from J&K), Gurinder Singh (from Tripura), Yogesh Nagar (from Delhi)
Mizoram Professionals - Taruwar Kohli (from Punjab), Akhil Lalchand Rajput (from Mumbai) Sinan Abdul Khader (from Karnataka)