It’s that time of the year again. The season of bright whites, shining red cherry, long hours under the sun and an opportunity to take the next step. From the chilly north to humid south, as many as 38 teams will battle it out over the next two months for the biggest prize in India’s domestic set-up – the Ranji Trophy.
The tournament returns to its full-fledged home-away format after ease in COVID-19 restrictions and a very competitive season awaits the top cricketers in the country. Ranji Trophy was held in a trimmed format – broken into two phases – last time around and the charm was missing as the number of matches were much fewer and lack of continuity was not ideal.
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There is a slight tweak in the format this time around as the BCCI has grouped teams into Elite and Plate category and there would be two titles up for grabs. The clubbing of newer states into the Elite set-up came under heavy criticism during the recently concluded Vijay Hazare Trophy, and a lot more competitive action is expected in the Plate group featuring the new teams.
The Elite category promises to be business as usual and quality cricket will be on offer starting December 13. The rise of Jammu and Kashmir and Assam in the white-ball circuit has only added more spice to the tournament.
The big boys eye return
Ajinkya Rahane for Mumbai, Ishant Sharma for Delhi, Mayank Agarwal for Karnataka and Hanuma Vihari for Andhra. Plenty of Indian players, out of the Test reckoning for now, would look to put up a strong case when they turn up for their respective states. All of them featured in the white-ball competitions but didn’t really set the stage on fire. They now return to familiar territory and a format where they have enjoyed a lot of success in the Indian whites.
Rahane is leading Mumbai and would look to be amongst the runs to regain his place back in the Indian middle order. It remains to be seen how much Ishant plays as whispers in the DDCA corridors suggest the veteran seamer is not likely to feature in all games for Delhi. For the likes of Mayank and Vihari, who are leading Karnataka and Andhra respectively, it would be about scoring those big runs and finding their way back into the Indian set-up.
While Mayank lost his place to the consistent Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer has edged Vihari for the spot in the Indian middle-order. For a little period, Vihari was tried at No.3 too but Cheteshwar Pujara’s brilliant run in England’s county circuit helped him regain the spot and the solid right-hander is now the vice-captain of the side for the upcoming Tests against Bangladesh.
The young guns
A lot of focus will be on how the likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal, Prithvi Shaw and Yash Dhull fare in the red-ball grind. Jaiswal has been very consistent for Mumbai at top of the order, across formats, and Shaw continues to bully oppositions. For Dhull, who has been appointed captain of Delhi for Ranji Trophy, it will be a very crucial season. He has enjoyed a lot of success in the First Class circuit, made it to the India A side too and would now look to continue with the brilliant run.
For Assam and Riyan Parag, it was a dream List A season as the side, riding high on the right-hander’s brilliant run with the bat, made it to the semifinal stage of the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Riyan has promised a similar positive approach in red-ball too and his outings in the Ranji Trophy will keep everyone interested.
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The white-ball beasts
Suryakumar Yadav, who has set the T20I stage on fire, returns to a format where he has scored bucket loads for Mumbai. The innovative right-hander, due to his international commitments, last played a Ranji Trophy game back in 2020 and has now made himself available for Mumbai’s second league fixture.
Similarly, focus would be on the likes of Sanju Samson, who is leading Kerala, and Punjab seamer Arshdeep Singh. Right from his age-group days, Arshdeep has enjoyed success with the red ball in domestic competitions and would look to do more of the same if he turns out for a very formidable Punjab unit.
Seamer Avesh Khan would too hope for encouraging returns as he has had a good run for Madhya Pradesh and has already taken 100 wickets in 27 First Class games he has played so far. The 25-year-old played the Vijay Hazare Trophy and returned with 12 wickets from six games he played in the season. For the likes of Ruturaj Gaikwad and Rahul Tripathi, who had set the Vijay Hazare Trophy on fire with their consistent outings, it would be another long season of knocking on the selector’s doors.
Financial boost for domestic veterans
There are plenty of veterans in the domestic circuit who don’t have lucrative IPL deals or even jobs to secure their non-playing days. For them, a long season, coupled with hiked match fees, will ensure some sort of financial security. As per the revised slabs, a senior domestic cricketer, who has played more than 40 matches, will be entitled to Rs 60,000 match fees per day. This makes it Rs 2,40,000 for a First Class fixture lasting four days.
Even the inexperienced lot is set to return with a fat pay check as the Playing XI members would receive Rs 40,000 per day while the ones on the bench would take home Rs 20,000 per day. To get rid of the delays in settlement of the match fees, the BCCI has now decided to introduce a digital portal to raise invoices and the traditional mechanism, which involved a lot of paperwork and was mostly initiated after culmination of a tournament, has been dropped.
All eyes of Elite Group B
This group features some of the top sides and it could be anybody’s game here. The likes of Delhi, Mumbai, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Saurashtra and Maharashtra make it a very competitive group.
While Saurashtra have enjoyed a lot of success in the domestic circuit, Mumbai are slowly, but surely regaining their daddy status in the circuit. For Tamil Nadu and Delhi, it looks to be a challenging road ahead as the two sides haven’t had much success in the red-ball format.
And, it will be difficult to ignore Assam this season. Especially after their inspiring show in the Vijay Hazare Trophy where they dominated a group featuring plenty of domestic giants.
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“The first goal is to qualify this time around as we haven’t been the best red-ball side going around” - Tamil Nadu’s Baba Indrajith
“We are very excited to play this complete season as after winning the title in 2019-20, we didn’t get Ranji Trophy next year and the 2021 season was a trimmed one. This year, our group is very challenging and we are up for it” - Saurashtra’s Arpit Vasavada
“Different conditions, different pitches so approach could vary. But I think the positive intent has to be there because at the end of the day the main goal is to score runs right” - Assam’s Riyan Parag
- Sarfaraz Khan was the leading run-getter in 2021 season with 982 runs in six matches at an astonishing average of 122.75
- Spinner Shams Mulani was on top of the wicket-takers tree with 45 wickets from six matches. He picked as many as six fifers in what was a brilliant season for the left-arm spinner
- With 20 wickets and 482 runs from five games, Bengal’s Shahbaz Ahmed was the leading all-rounder
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