The NKP Salve Challenger trophy, one of the most important tournaments from the players' point of view with the top 36 players of the country competing against each other to prove their supremacy, started on a wrong foot.
First and foremost, there was no live telecast of this premier tournament because of which the staging association lost revenue. I suppose the motivational levels of players would have also dropped a wee bit. Secondly, there was no sponsorship this year. TVS was the sponsor till last year. Thirdly, the start was delayed due to the late arrival of uniforms, which was shocking.
Dhoni (right) - A fabulous tournament with the bat
The cricket did get underway after all the hiccups. The wickets in this tournament were top-class in the sense that they favoured the batsmen more than the bowlers. The batsmen really enjoyed the Wankhede pitch, as did the spectators, for most of the games were high-scoring affairs. It was good for the public to watch the batsmen hitting the ball at will and to all parts of the ground. The real sufferers were the bowlers, especially the newcomers and those on the verge of establishing themselves in the Indian team. Joginder Singh, Gagandeep Singh, S.S.Paul, Ashish Nehra did not impress, probably because of the "paata-wicket" (A 'flat' wicket in cricketing parlance). The only bowler who impressed was R.P.Singh from U.P; he can swing the ball both ways, bowled a good line and never buckled under pressure. That's a good sign of a promising bowler, who is bowling better and better game after game. If he continues to bowl like this and keeps working hard, I am sure the sky is the limit. In the spinning department, nobody came close to Kartik and Kumble.
Mr. Dependable Rahul Dravid stood like a wall and played brilliantly throughout the tournament and made sure that his team won. He is such a committed cricketer that he takes every game seriously, be it a Test match, Ranji game or a club match. His commitment and attitude is to be adored. Shikhar Dhawan looked to be a good player but has to improve his on-side game. He is very strong on the off-side and square of the wicket, but showed lots of guts and determination. Robin Uthappa played a breezy knock of 66 and impressed the crowd and selectors. This boy has talent, and if nurtured properly, could develop into a better player. Niraj Patel looks to be a class player. He is in tremendous form this season, having scored more than 1100 runs. The knock he played in the final for the Indian seniors against India-A will be remembered in the mind for a long time. He is technically sound, has time to play his shots and moreover, plays with a full face of the bat which is the hallmark of a class player. But the player who took everybody by storm was Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He hits the ball with tremendous power. I haven't seen a hard hitter like him for a long time. Messrs Sandeep Patil, Kirti Azad, Srikkanth, to name a few, were good strikers of the cricket ball, but this lad is special. Everyone who was present will remember the knock he played, but it is unfortunate that there was no live coverage and millions of cricket loving fans missed his explosive exhibition of batting.
The Challenger trophy has given the selectors a good opportunity to take a look at the players' current form and fitness levels, which is a good run-up before they select the team to play the Pakistanis.