Bangalore: Riding high on confidence after winning the Ranji Trophy for the seventh time, Karnataka would be looking to add the Irani Cup to their silverware as they take on Rest of India in the traditional five-day match commencing at the Mangalam Chinnaswamy Stadium here on Sunday.
Karnataka enjoyed one of their best seasons ever when they chalked up seven outright victories in the just concluded Ranji Trophy and given their all-round form, the hosts begin as the odds-on favourite to beat a side that was merely put together for the Irani game.
While the Harbhajan Singh-led Rest of India boasts of a strong line up, Karnataka skipper Vinay Kumar would be banking on his in-form mates to pull their weight as the home team seeks to win the Irani Cup for the fifth time after a lapse of 15 years.
Despite the obvious advantages of playing in familiar environment and bolstered by the return of allrounder Stuart Binny and paceman H.S. Sharath, Karnataka will still have to reckon with a team that comprises some top performers of the season.
Binny missed the Ranji final due to national commitments while Sharath, until then the side's leading wicket-taker, was out of action with a shoulder injury for the last two games, and the return of the duo will certainly add muscle to the Karnataka team that exceeded all expectations despite the collective inexperience.
While winning the Irani Cup is a matter of great prestige, the game has much more at stake with India due to tour England this summer for a series of five Tests and as many one-dayers.
As such, the Irani Cup offers a final chance for players both on the fringes of national recognition and aiming to come back into the Indian Test squad as there are no more long duration games on the calendar until the tour of England.
For the Rest of India players like Harbhajan Singh, opener Gautam Gambhir, Amit Mishra and Dinesh Karthik, it is a matter of regaining their spots in the national team ahead of youngsters such as Punjab's Jiwanjot Singh, who has had a good run as an opening batsman, Tamil Nadu's consistent middle order batsman Baba Aparajith, Maharashtra batting stars Kedar Jadhav and Aniki Bawne and seamers Pankaj Singh and Ashoke Dinda, both among the top wicket takers this season.
Similarly, some of the Karnataka players like opener Lokesh Rahul, leg spinner Shreyas Gopal and of course Sharath, too are looking to catch the attention of the national selectors. The match offers a great platform for Vinay Kumar, Robin Uthappa and seamer Abhimanyu Mithun, the side's top wicket takers with a haul of 41, to stake their claim.
While the nature of the pitch is a matter of speculation at this moment, the game promises to dish out some quality fare and an exciting finish cannot be ruled out.
Rest of India: Harbhajan Singh (captain), Jiwanjyot Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Baba Aparajith, Kedar Jadhav, Ankit Bawne, Dinesh Kartik, Amit Mishra, Pankaj Singh, Ashoke Dinda, Varun Aaron, Parvez Rasool, Anureet Singh, Natraj Behera, Mandeep Singh.
Karnataka: Vinay Kumar (captain), Robin Uthappa, Lokesh Rahul, Ganesh Satish, Manish Pandey, Stuart Binny, C.M. Gautham, Karun Nair, Shreyas Gopal, Abhimanyu Mithun, Amit Verma, Mayank Agarwal, Sreenath Arvind, H.S. Sharath, Ronit More and Abrar Kazi.