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Ranji’s power of giving, year after year

Ranji is a vast net that taps talent and provides it a platform to shine. Long criticised for being of low quality and uncompetitive, people now see merit where they earlier only noticed mediocrity

Amrit Mathur

The IPL grabs all attention but it is the unfashionable Ranji Trophy that fuels the growth of Indian cricket. India has the biggest (38 teams) and longest (six months) first-class structure, involving
10,000 players.

Ranji is a vast net that taps talent and provides it a platform to shine. Long criticised for being of low quality and uncompetitive, people now see merit where they earlier only noticed mediocrity. If India is a top team in the world, Ranji deserves credit.

As Ranji reaches the business end, some results in the league stage are striking. Delhi and Mumbai, once dominant, are struggling to stay in contention. Tamil Nadu are effectively out and the demise of Hyderabad, bottom of the table after six losses from seven games, is distressing. Andhra, surprisingly, are at the top and J&K’s surge is impressive.

Mumbai were humbled, in Mumbai, losing by ten wickets to unsung Railways, who began this season with the mass sacking of seniors that caused a player revolt. Equally stunning was Uttar Pradesh beating Saurashtra in Rajkot by an innings, a shock result because Rajkot almost never produces a result thanks to its ‘made for
batsmen’ track.

But UP achieved the impossible, their hero skipper and left-arm spinner Saurabh Kumar, who dismissed Pujara in both innings. The tables turned for UP versus Mumbai. Sitting pretty after scoring 625/8, they were blown away by Sarfaraz Khan’s 333 as Mumbai made 688. Sarfaraz is a unique migratory bird who travelled from UP to Mumbai to UP, then again to Mumbai. Apparently he has loads of skill and swag, and extra weight, but an exciting talent to
watch out for.

Manoj Tiwary made a triple hundred, breaking a spell of ordinary scores. Wasim Jaffer (the 42-year-old debuted in 1996!) made a classy 83 on a nasty Kotla wicket. This in a game turned around by Nitish Rana, who hit a 68-ball hundred on day four for Delhi to cross the line.

Karun Nair, Test cricket’s triple centurion, is not in the best of form but IPL biggie Jaydev Unadkat is having a wonderful season (48 wickets in 7 games), so is the Haryana captain, medium-pacer Harshal Patel.

Off-spinner Jalaj Saxena has taken 39 wickets but the ‘ feel good’ story is 28-year-old Ravi Yadav from MP, who had a sensational start to his Ranji career—getting a hat-trick in his first over.

Like previous years, Test stars gave Ranji a miss, except Pujara who played five matches (509 runs) and Ashwin (27 wickets in four matches).

Rahane had a wretched Ranji, scoring 109 runs in 6 innings. Shikhar Dhawan made a big hundred in the only match he played and Ishant Sharma sliced through Vidarbha, but both pulled out with injury. It probably prompted BCCI not to let Saha turn up for Bengal ahead of the New Zealand tour.

Players’ absence—away on national duty—devalues Ranji, but this is an unavoidable scheduling issue. But fringe players sent on India A tours in the middle of the domestic season irked Sunil Gavaskar. According to him, playing Ranji is good for players, and for Ranji Trophy. He pointed out no other country schedules such tours during its cricket season.

Ranji wickets continue to be under the scanner, and this comes into focus especially in the final stretch as teams search for points to make the last eight. The ploy of preparing ‘result-oriented’ pitches to exploit home advantage doesn’t always work as Tamil Nadu and Kerala found out. Both lost home games within two days.

Bengal shifted their Hyderabad game from Eden Gardens to Kalyani looking for a turner to bag six points but, despite the best efforts of the curator, found a Rajkot-like wicket. Batting first they made 635 and won by
a big margin.

No such surprises at Lahli, Haryana, known to be a batsman’s graveyard. The wicket is so green, spinners would rather stay in the hotel, and matches rarely go the distance.

                (HT Media)

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