No, we are not going to talk about the relevance of the Duleep Trophy, or the other two domestic red-ball tournaments. For now, let’s believe that the selectors actually take these competitions into consideration while picking players for the Indian Test set-up. If you do believe that, only then proceed further.
One of India's most prestigious domestic tournaments, the Duleep Trophy 2023 will be played across multiple venues in Bangalore from June 28 to July 16. The last year's finalists - West Zone and South Zone - have got an automatic qualification to the semis and will take on the winners of Central Zone vs East Zone and North-East Zone vs North Zone respectively.
India have already announced the squad for the two-match Test series in West Indies, with the likes of Ruturaj Gaikwad, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Mukesh Kumar, and Navdeep Saini all part of the team. However, there are other players for whom this tournament will be very important and we have tried to list down a few of them.
Sarfaraz Khan (West Zone)
Enough has been written about Sarfaraz in the last two years and it’s a shame that he still hasn’t been able to find a place in the Indian Test squad. The middle-order batter has done everything possible to command a place in the Test XI. Since 2020, the 25-year-old has amassed 2970 runs in 37 innings at an average of 106.07. In this period, he has 12 centuries and seven fifties. Sarfaraz hasn’t done that well for India A in the four games he has played but did get 71* in South Africa. The problem though is Ajinkya Rahane is back at No. 5 and was India’s best batter in the WTC final, which unfortunately means Sarfaraz will have to wait a bit more for his debut. For now, all he could do is keep piling runs.
Abhimanyu Easwaran (East Zone)
You got to feel for Easwaran. The right-handed opener from Bengal has been with the India A set-up for quite a while but is yet to make his international debut. Someone like Shubman Gill was preferred over him, while the likes of Jaiswal and Gaikwad have also managed to leapfrog him in the hierarchy. Easwaran has 6,556 runs in 87 first-class games, including 22 centuries and 26 fifties. In fact, 22 of those 87 games have come for India A, in which the 27-year-old averages 47.27. Since 2018, no other player has played more games for India A than Easwaran. The Duleep Trophy will give him one more opportunity to tell everyone why he deserves a spot in the Indian Test team.
Cheteshwar Pujara (West Zone)
Have we seen the last of Pujara in Test cricket? We felt the same when he was dropped for the home Test series against Sri Lanka in March 2022, but was soon back in the set-up after scoring heaps of runs in county cricket. That’s the thing with Indian cricket, you never say never. Pujara is 35 and averages just 29.69 in his last 28 Tests, with just one century to his name in 52 innings. It makes sense to move on from Pujara, but from his point of view, the right-handed batter could still come back into contention by scoring big runs, especially considering India are set to travel to Australia next year.
Rinku Singh (Central Zone)
We all know what Rinku did in the IPL 2023 but please don’t let that distract you from how good he has been in red-ball cricket for Uttar Pradesh. The left-handed middle-order batter has been the backbone of UP’s batting line-up since his debut in 2016. 2875 runs in 40 first-class matches @ 59.89, decorated with seven centuries and 19 fifties - Rinku has stepped up almost every time his stateside has needed him to. That’s the thing about him, the 25-year-old knows how to get tough runs and has the right temperament to pace his innings according to the needs of the game. What’s surprising is that Rinku hasn’t even played for India A yet.
Tilak Varma (South Zone)
There’s a reason why everyone wants to see more of Tilak Varma. From what we have seen in the IPL, the left-hander has all the ingredients to thrive at the top level. He is good against both pace and spin, and can also give you a bit of off-spin. Tilak has an average of 38.95 and a strike rate of 144.53 in the IPL but has the technique to survive in all three formats. The 20-year-old has featured in only seven first-class encounters and two of those have been for India A, which tells you the selectors are keeping a close eye on him. In fact, he even scored a century against New Zealand A last year.
Sai Sudharsan (South Zone)
Here’s another young left-hander who hasn’t played enough first-class cricket (572 runs in seven games @ 47.66) but has impressed everyone in the IPL. You look at certain players and feel they have what it takes to survive at the top level. The 21-year-old, who set the IPL 2023 final on fire with his 47-ball 97, only made his red-ball format debut last year. An average of 60.36 in List A cricket tells you further why Sudharsan is one for the future.
Washington Sundar (South Zone)
526 runs in four Tests at an average of 66.25 - it’s a shame that Washington has played only four Tests so far despite debuting in January 2021. However, considering how often he gets injured, he has no one else to blame. A solid left-handed batter who is more than a decent off-spinner - Washington has all the ingredients to become a regular in India’s top-six, but that will only be possible if he keeps himself fit. India don’t have a single replacement for R Ashwin and Washington could be that guy.
Atit Sheth (West Zone)
A fast-bowling all-rounder in India is a rare commodity. You don’t need them in home conditions but the moment India travel to Australia, England, South Africa or New Zealand, everyone starts talking about how important they are to the team balance. Even someone like Shardul Thakur is preferred over Ashwin. One all-rounder who has done well in domestic cricket is Atit Sheth. The 27-year-old from Baroda averages 34.23 with the bat in 30 first-class games and also has 94 wickets @ 25.14.
Akshay Wadkar (Central Zone)
We wouldn’t even be talking about wicketkeeping options if Rishabh Pant hadn’t met with that unfortunate accident. Meanwhile, KS Bharat simply hasn’t done enough in five Tests to cement his place in the XI. What Pant has done is win India quite a few games with the bat and the Indian fans had gotten used to watching their wicketkeeper score runs for fun, which hasn’t been the case with Bharat. On top of that, India’s fragile top-order means they need a wicketkeeper who can also give them runs.
There’s no update on when Pant will be back but India need a ready replacement even once he is back. Ishan Kishan has been around, but’s it a shame that someone like Wadkar hasn’t even made his India A debut. The 28-year-old from Vidarbha averages 53.31 in 41 first-class games and has regularly got those tough runs for his state side. No other Indian wicketkeeper-batter has scored more first-class runs than Wadkar since his debut. In fact, he has the best average among keepers from the Elite groups in this time frame (minimum 500 runs). Maybe a good Duleep Trophy would give Wadkar some much-needed recognition. Well, one can only hope.
Upendra Yadav (Central Zone)
The 26-year-old has been around the Indian set-up for a while but is yet to break into the main squad. 1666 runs in 47 innings at an average of 45.02, studded with five tons and seven fifties, Upendra has pretty good numbers in first-class cricket. He has also played for India A against South Africa, New Zealand and Bangladesh and has two 70-plus scores across four innings. He might not be as flashy as Pant or Kishan but Upendra has all the ingredients to become a reliable batter down the order.
Avesh Khan (Central Zone)
India’s spin department looks more or less sorted for the future but the management would want a couple of seamers to rise through the ranks. Jasprit Bumrah’s fitness will always be a concern, while Mohammed Shami is already 32. It’s highly doubtful that Umesh Yadav will add any more matches to his 57-Test career. For now, Mohammed Siraj (29) is the only regular with age on his side, and that’s why the selectors will have their eye on Avesh.
Avesh’s stocks might have fallen in white-ball cricket but the 26-year-old has come back on the selectors’ radar in the red-ball format, especially after what he did in the last Ranji Trophy and Irani Trophy. Avesh, who has played five ODIs and 15 T20Is, claimed 38 wickets in eight games @ 20.1 in the 2022-23 Ranji Trophy. He then took six more wickets in the Irani Trophy earlier this year. “I have played for India with white ball but I want to represent the Indian Test team and for that I’m working hard,” he told the Indian Express.
Yash Thakur (Central Zone)
Umesh might be done, but we have another fast bowler from Vidarbha rising through the ranks. Yash Thakur has already proven his credentials in white-ball cricket and even made his IPL debut earlier this year. The right-arm seamer, however, doesn’t have the same amount of bodywork in first-class cricket. Vidarbha have played 31 red-ball games since 2018 and Thakur has featured in only 13 of them. In total, he has 37 wickets @ 25.43, with 17 of those coming in the last season at an average of 20.2. He did feature in six games in the last season of the Ranji Trophy and good performance in the Duleep Trophy could push him at least into the India A set-up.
Vidwath Kaverappa (South Zone)
Kaverappa made his debut last season but has already forced everyone to sit up and take notice. In his young career so far, the 24-year-old from Karnataka has been impressive in all three formats, but his ability to move the ball both ways makes him an exciting prospect in red-ball cricket. In the last edition of the Ranji Trophy, the right-armer claimed 30 wickets at an average of 20.4. India don’t really have a swing bowler and someone like Kaverappa could prove to be an asset in the future.
Arzan Nagwaswalla (West Zone)
Avesh is your hit-the-deck bowler, while Nagwaswalla relies more on swing. The left-arm seamer from Gujarat shot to fame with a five-wicket haul against Mumbai in his debut season in 2018. In the 2019-20 season, Nagwaswalla picked up 41 wickets in eight games @ 18.4 and was soon drafted into the Indian set-up, but as a stand-by and net bowler. However, he has only played seven first-class games since 2021 and just one in the 2022-23 Ranji Trophy. He hasn’t played a single competitive game this year. India don’t have too many left-arm pacers in their arsenal, which could work in Nagwaswalla’s favour. However, his lack of pace could be a concern at higher levels.
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