All eyes on Dhoni
Fresh from a disastrous World Cup campaign, India wicket keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is in town to play in the East Zone Twenty20 domestic competition starting today.
The East Zone round will feature Dhonis Jharkhand, apart from hosts Bengal, Orissa, Assam and Bihar.
In the first match tomorrow, Jharkhand will take on Orissa, and all eyes will be on the flamboyant wicketkeeper, who needs to score big to silence his critics and also make a point to the national selectors. With young gun Dinesh Kaarthick breathing down his neck, Dhoni cannot afford to let things go lightly. Interested spectators can enter Eden Gardens through gate 16 and matches are free for all.
A few hundred fans, who had thronged Eden Gardens to catch a glimpse of the youth icon, were not disappointed.
The hair was there all right, the bright red shirt in place, but the mind seemed to be still in the Caribbean islands, every time Dhoni paused between nets preparing for Jharkhands opening encounter.
Dhoni practised along with his teammates. He bowled at the nets and kept wickets for a while, before heading in for batting. The fierce strokeplay was there, the delicate cuts blazed in mid-day sun, but the smile was missing. He practised for about 90 minutes before taking a quick shower and heading for the team bus.
Dhoni, who rose like a meteor in world cricket over the last year and half for his merciless slaying of the opposition and a beefy agrarian batting style that left the opposition demoralised, had a poor run in the World Cup averaging less than 20.
He refused to talk to the media. But coach Mr Venkat Ram said: He is very disappointed. He wants to work hard and make amends. He just wants to score runs and that, too, very quickly.
Dhoni has not returned to his hometown, Ranchi, fearing backlash after the Cup debacle.
In the second match of the day, Bengal will take on Assam. Bengal will be missing the services of former India captain Sourav Ganguly.
He wont be able to take part in the initial stages of the tournament as he is a bit tired, he would, however, join the team in the knock out stages in Mumbai, said Mr Saradindu Pal, joint secretary, Cricket Association of Bengal. But with young Turks Manoj Tiwari, Abhishek Jhunjhunwala and Ranadeb Bose in their ranks, the hosts will fancy their chances to win the East Zone meet.
Two top teams from each zone will play the final leg to find the domestic Twenty20 winners. This competition is essentially to select the team for the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa, which starts on 11 September.
India will play their first match against Scotland in Durban on 13 September.