Bright dreams of a new journey, desperation to stage a comeback and desire to rediscover old glory will be the dominant themes of this season’s Ranji Trophy that begins at various centres across the country from Friday. On the periphery, the latest edition of the premier domestic competition might appear to be having little or no say in the cricketing fortunes of a clutch of players, especially with India’s batting and bowling line-ups almost sealed in Tests. The selectors also might not ring in too many changes for the five-match home rubber against England later this month.

Also India will play the red-ball format only in September at home against Bangladesh, courtesy an avalanche of white-ball matches, including the IPL and the T20 World Cup in June.

So, it might seem like there is zero incentive to toil in some remote grounds across the country over the next month and thereabouts. But in reality, a whole lot more is bubbling beneath that seemingly staid surface of insignificance over this Ranji Trophy.

No one will be more in focus than the two 35-year-old veterans — Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, whose Test careers are now in doldrums.

Rahane and Pujara will hope to log in some big runs in the competition to keep their names in the selectors’ discussion, especially since several younger cricketers are also vying for a spot in the national team.

Rahane will have to carry an additional burden. Along with his personal resurrection, the elegant batter will have to lead Mumbai to a much-desired title.

The 41-time champions’ last Ranji triumph came in the 2015-16 season and since then they have struggled to maintain their supremacy in the domestic circuit.

They will hope that Rahane, an astute leader and tactician, can change their fortunes this time.

Similarly, Karnataka’s Mayank Agarwal, who was the highest run-getter the previous season with 990 runs, will want another massive season under his belt.

At some stage, an opening slot could open in the Indian team, currently filled by captain Rohit Sharma and the young Yashasvi Jaiswal, and Agarwal would not want to miss that chance.

There are some serious contenders for the opening slot such as Bengal’s Abhimanyu Easwaran, who is currently in South Africa as a replacement for the injured Ruturaj Gaikwad.

So, Easwaran will not be playing at least the first-round match as he has not been named in the state squad because of his national commitments.

Then there are a host of young names who are eager to make an impression and remain in the range of selectors’ radar.

Sarfaraz Khan has churned out truck-load of runs for Mumbai in the last few seasons but has not been able to crack open the doors of national team even once.

The attacking right-hander will hope to continue in the same vein in the new season as well to attract a kinder glance from the powers that be.

The bowling stock too will come under intense scrutiny.

The injury-enforced absence of senior pacer Mohammed Shami and the well below-par effort of Prasidh Krishna against South Africa have exposed the rather bare cupboard of back-up options in fast bowling department at least in the traditional format.

In that context, promising names like Karnataka’s Vidwath Kaverappa, Vysakh Vijayakumar, who had an excellent run in the 2022-2023 season, Arzan Nagwaswalla of Gujarat, Bengal’s Ishan Porel etc could be watched closely this season.

Along with these young tyros, Saurashtra captain and veteran seamer Jaydev Unadkat too will be eyeing a fine outing to remain in the reckoning as he can bring in that left-arm variety into the attack.

Among the spinners, Manav Suthar, the 21-year-old left-arm spinner from Rajasthan, who took 44 wickets from eight matches last season, will be monitored keenly.

He has already been spoken highly in the cricketing circles as a crafty spinner and handy lower-order batter, and Suthar will be looking to build on the reputation.

Teams and groupings: Elite Group A: Saurashtra, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Vidarbha, Haryana, Services, Manipur.

Elite Group B: Bengal, Andhra, Mumbai, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Bihar.

Elite Group C: Karnataka, Punjab, Railways, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Gujarat, Tripura, Chandigarh.

Elite Group D: Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Baroda, Delhi, Odisha, Pondicherry, Jammu & Kashmir.

Plate Group: Nagaland, Hyderabad, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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