Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Ambati Rayudu among stars eyeing resurgence
The Vijay Hazare Trophy 2019-20 will feature 38 teams - one more than last year's already jumbo-sized 37 teams with the addition of Chandigarh, the newest member inducted into the BCCI by the Committee of Administrators. Here's a list of what and whom to watch out for in the domestic 50-over tournament.
When does it start?
The league phase starts on September 24. The knockouts begin from October 20 with the final scheduled for October 25.
Where is it being played?
Across four cities in India - Bengaluru (Group A), Vadodara (Group B), Jaipur (Group C) and Dehradun (Group D or the Plate Group).
And the format?
It remains the same as last year: keeping in mind the volume of teams, each group will be played with a round-robin format. Following that, the top five teams from Groups A and B combined (sorted by points tally), the top two teams from Group C, and the Group D leader will qualify for the quarter-finals.
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So why is this tournament important?
It might be a 50-over tournament, but it still attracts a strong presence from scouts at all eight IPL franchises. They look for players who do well at certain stages of the game, as also those who pass the 'eye test' and look like they have the potential to interest IPL teams.
The tournament is also a means for players to find consistency or come back in the reckoning. Last year, Ajinkya Rahane scored heavily for Mumbai to make his case for World Cup selection (although he didn't make the cut eventually).
While the tournament no longer serves to pitchfork performers directly into national reckoning, the standout players are often earmarked by the selectors for India A teams, from which they can make their cases for the Indian team.
Who are the India regulars in action?
This might be an important tournament for the likes of Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul and Ambati Rayudu. Pant is only available for Delhi's first few matches, after which he will join the Indian Test side, but with the concentration of attention on him kicked off by Ravi Shastri's comments, this will be an ideal opportunity for the wicketkeeper-batsman to get runs and confidence.
Rahul has gone out of favour for the Tests, and even though he was in the limited-overs set-up, he played only one T20I across the tour of West Indies and the home series against South Africa. As Karnataka's vice-captain and at present available for possibly the full duration of the tournament, Rahul can re-establish his white-ball credentials. He will be deputy to Manish Pandey, another batsman for whom a good season will solidify his national standing, where a bad season can hurt it.
Rayudu, meanwhile, has come out of a short retirement and been named the Hyderabad captain. Not being picked for the World Cup had cut up the batsman, but his 'retirement' didn't really cost him anything since he un-retired before the season began. He now has the chance to show the selectors why Virat Kohli anointed him India's chosen No. 4 last year, before his form tailed off and he lost favour with the selectors.
Another player looking to come back in the reckoning is Yuzvendra Chahal. Till not too long back an essential part of India's limited-overs sides, Chahal - and Kuldeep Yadav - have seen their positions slide in the 20-over format with India seeking greater batting depth. A strong performance for Haryana should help Chahal's cause.
Hanuma Vihari will captain Andhra for the first few games before joining the Test squad, and Krunal Pandya will lead Baroda.
Navdeep Saini is in Delhi's squad and is expected to be available during the tournament, while Shikhar Dhawan is expected to join the team at a later, but as yet unspecified, date.
Kedar Jadhav will lead Maharashtra, and Shreyas Iyer will captain Mumbai. Umesh Yadav is in Vidarbha's squad. The Chahar cousins - Deepak and Rahul - are both in Rajasthan's squad, as is Khaleel Ahmed.
Tamil Nadu will have Dinesh Karthik and Vijay Shankar as captain and vice-captain respectively, with M Vijay (available after the first week) and Washington Sundar also in the ranks.
Who are the defending champions?
A star-studded Mumbai team beat a strong Delhi side in the final last year. During the tournament, Mumbai had Rohit Sharma, Prithvi Shaw, Rahane and Iyer turning out for them, and of those four, only Rohit wasn't available for the final. Mumbai bowled Delhi out cheaply in the title clash, but an inspired spell by Saini meant the chase wasn't as straightforward as they would have thought.
Bihar had topped the Plate Group in 2018-19, and will thus be in Group C, with Assam - bottom ranked in Group C - relegated to the Plate Group.