Corporate Trophy from today

Former champions Air India the team to look out for

Four teams -- Air India, Customs and Excise, State Bank of Patiala and All India Electricity Board -- will compete in Bangalore, and the team to beat will be Air India. Over the last two tournaments, Air India have fielded some star-studded outfits, featuring the likes of MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Suresh Raina, Rudra Pratap Singh and Irfan Pathan.

The star power catapulted them, Air India Red to be precise, to the title in the inaugural edition in 2009, but the defending champions failed to produce a strong show in the second edition despite the presence of some familiar names. It was the turn of Indian Oil Corporation to lift the trophy last year, beating a strong India Cements contingent by three runs at Visakhapatnam.

Air India might not have big names in their ranks this year, but the experienced Hrishikesh Kanitkar -- their skipper for the tournament -- hard-hitting batsman Robin Uthappa, who will also do the stumper’s duty, Paul Valthaty, who hogged the limelight during this year’s IPL with some monster hitting, and Mohammad Kaif will bolster their batting. The bowling too looks in safe hands with India pacer Pankaj Singh, Dhawal Kulkarni, Pradeep Sangwan and Siddharth Trivedi sharing the attack.

Having said that, it will not be a stroll in the park for Air India. The toughest challenge for them should come from Electricity Board, led by Bengal’s Manoj Tiwari. They also have Wriddhiman Saha, Shib Sankar Paul and Debabrata Das lending meat to their line-up. Customs and Excise and State Bank of Patiala have a fair sprinkling of youngsters, but it will be a massive task for them to challenge the more experienced Air India and Electricity Board.

The tournament is also an ideal platform for players like Uthappa, Tiwari, Saha and Valthaty to notch up some big scores to remain in the compass of selectors ahead of a busy international season. With the focus gradually shifting to the next generation of players, these youngsters can benefit immensly from a fine run in the tournament.

Thursday’s matches: AI vs Customs and Excise (Chinnaswamy stadium); AIEB vs State Bank of Patiala (RSI grounds).

Friday’s matches: Air India vs AIEB (Chinnaswamy stadium); Customs and Excise vs State Bank of Patiala (RSI grounds).

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