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Will Rohit, Ashwin Play Ranji Trophy Semis?

February 28, 2024 08:20 IST
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IMAGE: Rohit Sharma could square up against Ravichandran Ashwin in a mouth-watering Ranji Trophy semi-final if the BCCI releases the duo for the fifth and final Test against England in Dharamsala. Photograph: BCCI

Nothing drives India like cricket! The sport is omnipresent in every nook and corner of the country and every Indian at some point in his life has definitely tried his hand at cricket.

However, despite the undying love for the game, the country's premier domestic competition, the Ranji Trophy, has continued to be largely ignored.

There was a time when crowds would flock to see Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid play for their state teams even if they played a couple of games a year and before them the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Viswanathan, Kapil Dev, Mohinder Amarnath and other big names used to be a regular feature in the Ranji Trophy.

Since the introduction of the Indian Premier League in 2008, top cricketers along with rising stars have preferred to play in IPL, ignoring the Ranji Trophy.

One knock in the IPL gets a player more limelight than he would get if he performed well in an entire Ranji Trophy season.

Even though Ranji Trophy performances have been a major selection criteria to be picked for the Test team, the number of players skipping the red ball tournament to work on their T20 game are increasing steadily in the last few years.

The Mushtaq Ali Trophy -- the national T20 tournament -- is the most coveted tournament in the Indian domestic calendar in recent years along with the Vijay Hazare Trophy 50 overs tournament.

These are the two white ball tournament where you find the maximum scouts from the IPL teams and hence many young players are more keen to give their best there than in Ranji games.

IMAGE: Sarfaraz Khan hit two 50s in his first Test in Rajkot. Photograph: BCCI

A recent case in example is Sarfaraz Khan, who had to consistently rake up the runs in recent Ranji seasons, leaving the selectors with no choice but to pick him for the England series.

Sarfaraz has struggled to make the same impact in the last four IPL seasons, leaving him with only domestic cricket to hit the headlines and push his case for selection, which proved to be a tough journey.

The rare breed of players like Sarfaraz, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, who are known only for their feats in red ball cricket, is getting fewer by the day.

Ishan Kishan's recent tiff with the BCCI and the Indian team management over playing domestic cricket put the spotlight back on how players are cool with missing Ranji Trophy for IPL.

Kishan pulled out of the South Africa Test series citing mental fatigue after he was dropped for the Afghanistan T20I series at home despite a good record in white ball cricket.

He could have been picked as the wicket-keeper for the Tests against England, but Rahul Dravid and the team management wanted him to play domestic cricket first which he didn't and was ignored by the selectors.

Openly defying Dravid and the selectors, Kishan skipped Jharkhand's Ranji Trophy matches and has been training separately to prepare for IPL 2024. He could take it a step further as he is set to play for the Reserve Bank of India in the D Y Patil T20 tournament in Navi Mumbai.

Similarly, Shreyas Iyer opted out of Mumbai's Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Baroda citing back pain. However he found himself in a spot when Nitin Patel, the head of sports science and medicine at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, in an e-mail to BCCI selectors, confirmed that Iyer was 'fit' to play.

Iyer said on Tuesday that he would play the semi-final against Tamil nadu, if he is picked of course.

While the BCCI is mulling a pay rise for the Test regulars, it can also do well to promote the Ranji Trophy by getting more India players to participate in the knockout rounds by tweaking the international schedule as such.

Having already sealed the Test series against England after winnng the fourth Test in Ranchi, the BCCI could release Captain Rohit Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin for the Mumbai versus Tamil Nadu Ranji Trophy semi-final.

This could also help the selectors try out a few more young players in the fifth and final Test in Dharamsala, to be played next week.

Imagine a Ranji Trophy semi-final when a power-packed Mumbai line-up led by Rohit Sharma clashes against Tamil Nadu captained by spin ace Ravichandran Ashwin.

Realistically, it wouldn't be possible so many players from the starting XI, but at least a couple of players to bolster each team would be a welcome move, considering that the Test series has already been won.

Rajat Patidar, who has struggled to get runs in the three Tests that he has played, could look to get back his form when he plays for Madhya Pradesh in their Ranji semis against Vidarbha.

The Ranji semi-finals will be played from March 2 to 6, with the final scheduled from March 10 to 14.

Given that the England Test series had a 10-day break between the second and third TestS, the workload should not be a factor. Anyways, the players are used to the hectic IPL schedule where they are either playing or travelling every couple of days.

IMAGE: Jasprit Bumrah could take over the captaincy for the fifth Test against England from Rohit Sharma. Photograph: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

The Indian team though weakened could try out young stars like Devdutt Padikkal and Ruturaj Gaikwad, while also bringing back Cheteshwar Pujara, who was in good form in the Ranji Trophy for Saurashtra, along with K L Rahul.

Jasprit Bumrah could take over the captaincy from Rohit, with Axar Patel replacing Ashwin as the spin all-rounder in the team.

How India could line up for the Dharamsala Test if the selectors release Rohit and Ashwin:

Devdutt Padikkal
Yashasvi Jaiswal
Shubman Gill
K L Rahul
Sarfaraz Khan
Dhruv Jurel (wicket-keeper)
Ravindra Jadeja
Axar Patel
Kuldeep Yadav
Jasprit Bumrah (captain)
Mohammed Siraj

The importance of the Ranji Trophy to the BCCI can be gauged by the fact that you can find the detailed stats of every player on the IPL Web site even if he has played a single game, but nowhere is there a BCCI Web site to get even a single stat of Ranji Trophy players even though the tournament is nearly nine decades old.

Rohit last featured in the Ranji Trophy for Mumbai in December 2015. Ashwin played four matches for Tamil Nadu in the 2019-2020 season, taking 27 wickets at an average of 15.

Only if we could have a Rohit versus Ashwin clash in the semis! What a perfect fill-up it would be for the resurgence of the Ranji Trophy.

Ranji Trophy semi-final schedule:
March 2-6: 1st Semi-Final: Vidarbha vs Madhya Pradesh, Nagpur
March 2-6: 2nd Semi-Final: Mumbai vs Tamil Nadu, Mumbai

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