Domestic cricket returns home after a gap of close to nine months in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the rising stars of Indian cricket and some big names will take centre stage in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2021 commencing on January 10.
The 38-team event will be played across Bangalore, Kolkata, Vadodara, Indore, Mumbai, Tamil Nadu in the group-stage format before Ahmedabad plays host to the knockout stage of the tournament.
Defending champions Karnataka who boast of big match-winners in their side will be looking to stamp their authority this time around as well. But, expect some fireworks from other teams as well as the shortest format promises to give a good dose of excitement over the next few weeks.
As we gear up to one of Indian domestic cricket’s marquee tournaments, here are the players to watch out for.
Devdutt Padikkal was the leading run-getter of the tournament last season, scoring 580 runs at an average of 64.44. The stylish left-handed batsman who had an impressive Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020, where he top-scored for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) with 473 runs, will be looking for another fine season with the bat as Karnataka eye their third successive title triumph.
Rututaj Gaikwad did not get off to a flying start in the IPL 2020 for Chennai Super Kings (CSK), but the 23-year-old right-handed batsman turned the tide and did so in some style and went on to score three successive half-centuries for the men in yellow. Gaikwad, who has over 1000 T20 runs in List A cricket and was the second highest leading run-getter (419 runs) in the last edition of SMAT, will be key to Maharashtra’s fortunes. Some of the who’s who of the game have sung his praises in the IPL & Gaikwad would only be hoping to prove them right when his time comes to showcase his skills with the bat in the SMAT.
His famous gesture of “Why fear, I am here” almost became the talk of the town in the 2020 IPL. Rightly so, Suryakumar had hit a purple patch in blue and gold and was deemed as a genuine match-winner by many. True to his credentials and abilities, he was one of the key architects of Mumbai Indians’ title winning season last year amassing 480 runs. He is now named Mumbai captain and will be looking to hand his side their maiden title triumph. Expect the Mumbai Captain to shine bright & light up the “SKY”.
Harshal Patel, who has been around the domestic circuit for a while, enjoyed a lot of success with the bat and ball in the previous season of the SMAT. The all-rounder was Haryana’s leading run-getter, scoring 374 runs at a strike rate of 165.48 and went on to scalp 19 wickets – joint second-highest – to power his side to the semifinals. Can Harshal’s crafty all-round capabilities spring up telling performances? Only time will tell.
As Mumbai Indians marched towards their fifth IPL triumph, Ishan Kishan shone bright with the bat, hammering 516 runs. The left-handed wicketkeeper-batsman, who will be captaining the Jharkhand side, had worked on his power game ahead of the IPL 2020 and he will be looking to lead Jharkhand’s charge in this season of the SMAT.
After powering Saurashtra to their maiden Ranji Trophy triumph last year, Jaydev Unadkat will be looking to add another title triumph in SMAT. The left-arm pacer had scalped 12 wickets from 7 matches in the last edition of the tournament and he will be keen to better those numbers as Saurashtra, placed in Elite D group, look to advance to the knockouts.
He had earned an IPL contract with Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) following his big-hitting exploits in the domestic cricket last season and Abdul Samad will be out to make a mark once again for Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in the coming edition of the SMAT. The swashbuckling right-hander was vital to his team’s progress to the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals and if he repeats his six-hitting heroics, it will bolster J&K’s chances to reach the knockouts of SMAT this season.
Ravisrinivasan Sai Kishore
The young left-arm spinner was the leading wicket-taker (20 wickets) during the last edition of the tournament and R Sai Kishore will once again be someone that Dinesh Karthik and Co will turn to as they look to go one step better than their runners-up finish of last season. A lot was spoken about his bowling acumen ahead of the last year’s IPL auction and he got picked by CSK. While he did not get the game time during the IPL, he will remain crucial to Tamil Nadu’s fortunes.
Ishant Sharma will return to action after recovering from his side-strain injury. The right-arm pacer had to miss a major part of the IPL 2020 and the entire four-match Test series against Australia. With India playing five Tests against England at home, the tournament will give Ishant the opportunities to have a few overs under his belt and test his workload in the build-up to a key Test series at home.
Ravi Bishnoi earned his maiden IPL contract after he was picked by Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) on the back of his sensational run with the ball in the ICC Under 19 World Cup last year where he topped the wicket-taking charts with 17 scalps. The young leg-spinner featured in all the 14 KXIP matches and impressed one and all, returning with 12 wickets to his name and will now look to play an important role in Rajasthan’s success.