Kolkata: Six cities with bio-bubbles, 30 elite state teams boasting of an array of top Indian stars who are not a part of the contingent Down Under - there is a buzz slowly building up around the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 trophy is set to begin on January 10. The official T20 event of Indian cricket board, which will work as a talent-hunting ground for scouts of Indian Premier League (IPL), is going to usher in what could be a truncated first class domestic season for India this year.
Starting on January 10 with the final on January 31, the event will showcase the best of India’s cricketing talent - along with the ‘return’ of some prodigal sons like Shantakumaran Sreesanth and Suresh Raina - the latter having retired from international cricket alongwith Mahendra Singh Dhoni in August this year. Yuvraj Singh, who quit competitive cricket in mid-2019, was extremely keen to return for Punjab in a player-mentor role but his plea to come out of retirement has been unfortunately turned down by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Raina, meanwhile, is trying to whip himself back to shape to play for Uttar Pradesh.
Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore, Vadodara, Indore and Chennai have been chosen as the six venues which will stage the tournament by creating bio-secure bubbles. Most teams have started physical conditioning and practice sessions in their respective home cities before travelling to their respective hubs. Karnataka are the reigning champions of the event.
With the COVID-19 pandemic coming in the way for any form of domestic cricket, this edition of Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy assumes greater significance as the mini auction for IPL 2021 will be slated right after the tournament.
Sreesanth, whose ban on charges of spot-fixing in IPL ended in September this year, has been named as a probable in an extremely balanced Kerala side - which boasts of Sanju Samson, Sachin Baby, Jalaj Saxena, Robin Uthappa and Basil Thampi.
Kolkata, where the Group B action will take place, will have it’s quota of high profile teams stationed here in Tamil Nadu, Hyderabad, Odisha, Jharkhand, Assam and Bengal. The hosts, captained by young India A batsman Abhimanyu Easwaran, have got into the grind for about two weeks now while the other teams are expected to report here on January 2.
VVS Laxman, the Indian batting stalwart and Bengal team’s batting consultant for their Vision 2020 plan, had been monitoring their progress alongwith veteran chief coach Arun Lal and his support staff.
Laxman, who had been a mentor with the Sunrisers Hyderabad squad during the recent IPL in the UAE, reminded there is no margin of error for the players in the bubble for nearly a month - during which their life will revolve around practice sessions and matches.
‘‘It’s a different experience being in the bio bubble. I think the most important part of this is to be disciplined, follow the guideline and protocols because it’s for the safety and well being of the players and everyone involved. It is important that the players understand that and show discipline. As far as the game is concerned it will be the same. They will go to the ground and play matches or do practice sessions. I’m sure they will be able to use the gym in the hotel also,’’ he said.
‘‘I think the players will be happy that they are playing this tournament and BCCI has to be complemented for first organising the IPL in such a professional manner and I’m sure they will organise this meet also in the same manner where everyone’s safety is taken care of. So I think the players will be happy that they are playing in Mushtaq Ali and the small sacrifice they have to make is follow the guidelines and stay disciplined and maintain those protocols,’’ VVS added.
Elite A: Venue Bangalore
Teams: Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Railways and Tripura.
Elite B: Kolkata
Odisha, Bengal, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Hyderabad.
Elite C: Vadodara
Gujarat, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Baroda and Uttarakhand.
Elite D: Indore
Services, Saurashtra, Vidarbha, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Goa.
Elite E: Mumbai
Haryana, Andhra, Delhi, Mumbai, Kerala and Puducherry.
Chandigarh, Meghalaya, Bihar, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.