The Great Ranji Hoopla (2024)


The curtain momentarily fell on Monday evening on the proceedingsof the Ranji Trophy, which will remain dormant until December24

Sankhya Krishnan


The curtain momentarily fell on Monday evening on the proceedingsof the Ranji Trophy, which will remain dormant until December24. But the lead characters cannot wander off the stage as theyare contracted to appear in another production beginning onWednesday - the Duleep Trophy. The Ranji hiatus provides anopportune moment to relive some of the bright and dark sides tothe season so far.

The overwhelming preponderance of contests in the preliminaryphase of this tournament can be conveniently sorted into twocategories. Those where the result is predestined (eg. Bengal vTripura) and those where the result is meaningless (eg. Punjab vHaryana) as it would normally make no difference to their chancesof qualifying. Indeed to call these matches contests, requires apeculiar sense of humour, for contests they assuredly are not.The same teams qualify for the next stage with unfailing monotony(all right, so Mumbai didn't qualify last year but it was onlyfor the third time in 64 seasons), so clearly the competitiveinstinct is dead and the only thing left to play for isindividual glory. This phase of the Ranji Trophy representsnothing more than a futile gesture to convention as the powersthat be have got it into their collective skulls that this is theonly way in which the tournament can be organised.

The North Zone league is the only one to have completed all itsengagements. Punjab, Delhi and Haryana have again qualified forthe Super League for the millionth time in a row, the onlyconcession to change being that Punjab, and not Delhi, is thegroup leader this time.

Wicketkeeper batsman Pankaj Dharmani has been at the heart ofPunjab's success with successive scores of 70, 305 not out, 202not out and 101 in his first four innings for a total of 678 atan average of 339. This included a run of 608 runs without beingdismissed - close to KC Ibrahim's first class record of 709 inthe 1947-48 domestic season. The bubble finally burst in his lastmatch against Haryana when he sullied his average by failing toscore. Dharmani, who played without distinction for India in afew ODI's as a batsman must be eyeing the keeper's slot in thenational side with some degree of expectation for the currentoccupant MSK Prasad is revelling in distinguished mediocrity.

Reetinder Sodhi has been knocking to deaf ears on the doors ofnational selection for some time. He put up a good all round showwith a hundred, a 79 and two five wicket hauls in an innings. Butthe lynchpin of Punjab's bowling was Sharandeep Singh who had one10 wicket and one nine wicket haul. Navjot Sidhu was not requiredafter scoring 1 & 2 in Punjab's opening match against Himachal.His fortunes contrasted sharply with that of his contemporary andfellow India discard, Azharuddin.

The Punjab-Delhi match was always going to be a needle match notleast because Delhi has a fair number of Punjabis itself. Punjabbested Delhi in the scramble for the first innings lead but onlyjust, as Delhi replied to Punjab's 530-7 declared with 527.Virender Sehwag, Ashu Dani and Mithun Minhas were the mostconsistent batsmen for Delhi with two hundreds each. Delhi alsohas as good a new ball pair as any in the country in Ashish Nehraand Amit Bhandari. They took a five wicket haul each againstServices and Nehra, who was good enough to play for India inFebruary but does not even make the A side now, took 11 wicketsin Delhi's trouncing of J&K. Haryana was always going to playthird fiddle and came through on the strength of their batting.

The 31-year-old Himachal skipper, Rajiv Nayyar, was plucked fromobscurity but for all the wrong reasons. While his 271 in 1015minutes was a feat of remarkable attrition, in the context of thegame it was also remarkably self-serving. Himachal's firstinnings ended late on the final evening, allowing J & K 5 oversin their second knock. At least Hanif Mohammed, whom Nayyareclipsed as the longest first class innings, played a matchsaving knock at Bridgetown in 1957-58. Nayyar's was neither matchwinning nor match saving, only match killing.

The Central Zone is the only league that bucks the trend by beingplayed in a competitive spirit, what with having not three butfour evenly matched teams. Although Madhya Pradesh topped thegroup last season, they are virtually out of the running thisyear for a place in the Super League. They finished theirengagements with 14 points from 4 matches, behind Rajasthan andRailways with 18 and 16 respectively, from three matches each.Fourth placed UP has 11 points with a match in hand againstminnows Vidarbha and they should clinch the remaining berth withminimum fuss.

MP were deprived of an outright victory against Railways after anaudaciously defensive batting display by the latter on the lastday. Starting the day at 3-0 after following on, Railways made 83more in a full day's play (104 overs) for the loss of fivewickets. They obviously distrusted the hoary precept that attackis the best form of defence. The four man MP spin attack,including Chauhan and Hirwani, was stymied although Majithia hadthe dubious satisfaction of crafting arguably the most miserlyanalysis in history: 20-20-0-1!

Jai Prakash Yadav's 265 went in vain for MP in this match. Yadavshowed that he's no mug with the ball either, taking six wicketsin an innings in the next match against Rajasthan. But the bigdisappointment was Amay Khurasia. His scores of 25, 12, 31, 22,22, 4 and 16 belied the fact that he was India material not morethan four months ago. Sanjeev Sharma, the former India mediumpacer whose enduring claim to fame is having Graham Gooch droppedoff him on 36 (culprit:More) en route to his 333, having switchedstates from Delhi to Rajasthan, has also apparently switched hisidentity from bowler to batsman. He hit a century againstVidarbha and followed it up with 78 not out and 100 not out vsUP. Murali Kartik managed to get in a 12 wicket haul for Railwaysin the only match he played, against Vidarbha, before moving onto bigger stages to parade his talents.

The South Zone league threw up the only 'surprise' of thetournament so far with Tamil Nadu defeating holders Karnataka inBangalore by 116 runs with 5.4 overs to spare. But it was nosurprise really with Karnataka missing seven first eleven playerson duty with India & India A. Of course TN missed Ramesh andKumaran as well. The worrying aspect of the defeat for Karmatakais that it opens up the third qualifying spot for an assault byupstarts Andhra. With all six teams having played three matcheseach, Hyderabad lead the table with 21 points followed by TN with18. Karnataka with 16 and Andhra with 14 follow and while theyplay each other in one game, Andhra also has a match in handagainst Kerala while Karnataka is yet to take on formidableHyderabad.

Mohd. Azharuddin has been pointedly ignoring the crude hintsbeing dropped by the selectors to retire. And he has done hiscause no harm with a score of 200 against Goa, which is notexactly the best attack in the country. Anything less may havebrought his competence into question. VVS Laxman also stroked hisway to two 100's in two innings against Goa and Kerala, againstattacks which are perhaps a trifle less well endowed thanQueensland. The ageless wonder Kanwaljeet Singh has been a noless vital cog in the wheel with match hauls of 10 & 11 v Goa andKerala en route to becoming the highest wicket taker forHyderabad. Having disposed off the rabbits, Hyderabad now has itswork cut out to preserve its lead, with clashes looming aheadagainst its two arch rivals.

For Tamil Nadu, S Sharath, who captained the side when RobinSingh was away on national duty, made 91 and 106 not out againstKerala and 83 in the win over Karnataka. Rowland Barrington ofKarnataka joined the select list of batsmen making a century onfirst class debut in the match against Kerala.

It's early days yet in the West Zone league. Mumbai leads with 11points from two games followed by Baroda on 10 from two. Mumbaibegan with an innings victory over Maharashtra with rookiespinner Rajesh Pawar taking 11 wickets. However they contrived tolose the first innings lead to Baroda's last wicket pair in theirsecond game. The Mumbai top order of Jaffer, Paranjpe, Majumdarand Kambli have yet to make the transition from fallible humanbeings to relentless run machines. Nilesh Kulkarni has alsolooked sharp with two five wicket hauls in an innings, althoughhis lack of penetration in the Irani Trophy game has condemnedhim to the sidelines.

Mumbai exile Rohan Gavaskar has been having a ball a couple ofthousand kilometres to the east. He and Srikant Kalyani took aliking to the Tripura attack, flaying it for double centuriesapiece as Bengal won by an innings. They are now top of the EastZone league with 13 points from two matches. Bihar too rode on avictory over Tripura to gather 11 points from two. Orissa, thethird participant in this three horse race, has garnered fivepoints from the only match it has played, against Bihar where itgot a first innings lead of four runs. For its part Assam hasalso done considerably well. It has only three points from onematch but almost grabbed the first innings lead against Bengalwho were bailed out by their last wicket pair.

Forty of the sixty matches in the preliminary stage have beenconcluded. But it is debatable if this whole elaborate exercisehas made anybody the wiser. Indeed the only changes in thequalifiers to the Super League from last year are likely to be UPfor MP, Mumbai for Maharashtra and perhaps Andhra for a depletedKarnataka. Except for two or three teams, the same list couldhave been drawn up before the season began. In effect, this wholerigmarole only serves to decide three qualifiers. The Board ofControl for Cricket in India should ponder in its infinite wisdomwhether this kind of format is in the interests of Indiancricket.

IndiaIndian Domestic Season

The Great Ranji Hoopla (2024)


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