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Irani Cup: Mayank Agarwal to lead Rest of India, injury rules out Sarfaraz
Gwalior: India batter Mayank Agarwal will be captaining the Rest of India (ROI) team against Madhya Pradesh in the Irani Cup, which will commence on March 1 at Captain Roop Singh Stadium in Gwalior.
Agarwal has been rewarded for being the leading run-scorer of the recently-concluded Ranji Trophy season where he scored 990 runs in 13 innings, with a highest score of 249. The Irani Cup venue was shifted to Gwalior from Indore after the third India-Australia Test was assigned to the Holkar Stadium, hence the game had to be moved from its original location. The Irani Cup match will mark Gwalior's return to first-class competition after more than six years.
Mumbai's Sarfaraz Khan is the most noteworthy exclusion from the 16-member roster, which has not yet been formally revealed by the BCCI.
According to ESPNcricinfo, Sarfaraz, who has been phenomenal with the bat over the past three seasons, has been told to take 8-10 days off to recover from a finger injury he suffered while competing in the DY Patil T20 Cup in Mumbai. Sarfaraz is now nursing his injury at a Delhi Capitals conditioning camp in Kolkata.
Agarwal last featured for India in March 2022 in a Test against Sri Lanka and has since failed to secure his place on the national side. The right-hander is eyeing a comeback after a stellar Ranji season.
Abhimanyu Easwaran, the Bengal opening batsman, will partner Agarwal at the top. Abhimanyu, who was a member of the Test squad that travelled to Bangladesh in December, is also hoping to make a breakthrough. He had previously led India A on a shadow tour to Bangladesh when he scored two consecutive hundreds.
The other top-order batsmen on the Rest of India team include Yash Dhull, Sudip Kumar Gharami, Yashasvi Jaiswal, B Indrajith, and Sudip Kumar Gharami. With 803 and 798 runs respectively, Gharami and Abhimanyu finished sixth and seventh in the Ranji top run scorers list as Bengal finished as runners-up.
Only two members of Saurashtra's championship-winning team were chosen, left-arm seamer Chetan Sakariya and wicketkeeper-opener Harvik Desai.
A four-man attack featuring Sakariya, Navdeep Saini from Delhi, and Mukesh Kumar and Akash Deep from Bengal completes the fast-bowling unit's well-rounded composition. Saini will be making a comeback after suffering an abdominal muscle strain on India A tour to Bangladesh. The only seam-bowling all-rounder in the mix is Atith Sheth of Baroda.
Jalaj Saxena, the Kerala all-rounder, and Shams Mulani, the Mumbai all-rounder, two of the season's top wicket-takers, are not a part of the squad despite having taken 50 and 46 wickets, respectively.
The selection committee, comprising SS Das, S Sharath, Salil Ankola, and Subroto Bannerjee, have picked Saurabh Kumar of Uttar Pradesh, a left-arm spinner, and Mayank Markande of Punjab, a legspinner.
The fact that the selectors are eager to offer opportunities to legspinners in red-ball cricket is probably one of the reasons Markande is still in the running despite having taken only 22 wickets from seven games. Rahul Chahal and Ravi Bishnoi are Markande's closest rivals. While Chahar did not play at all for Rajasthan, Bishnoi only participated in one game.
In the absence of regular captain Aditya Shrivastava, wicketkeeper-batsman Himanshu Mantri will lead Madhya Pradesh. With Rajat Patidar, Venkatesh Iyer, Avesh Khan, Shubham Sharma, and Yash Dubey all in the mix, the core group that won the Ranji Trophy in June of last year has mostly been retained.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which broke out a week after Madhya Pradesh's first victory in March 2020, prevented them from hosting the Irani Cup.
Rest of India squad: Mayank Agarwal (capt), Sudip Kumar Gharami, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Harvik Desai, Mukesh Kumar, Atit Sheth, Chetan Sakariya, Navdeep Saini, Upendra Yadav (wk), Mayank Markande, Saurabh Kumar, Akash Deep, B Indrajith, Pulkit Narang, Yash Dhull
Madhya Pradesh squad: Himanshu Mantri (capt & wk), Rajat Patidar, Yash Dubey, Harsh Gawli, Shubham Sharma, Venkatesh Iyer, Akshat Raghuwanshi, Aman Solanki, Kumar Kartikeya, Saransh Jain, Avesh Khan, Ankit Kushwah, Gaurav Yadav, Anubhav Agarwal and Mihir Hirwani. (ANI)