File image of Ajinkya Rahane© AFP
The likes of Ishant Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane will be keen for one last throw of dice while Tilak Vermas and Yashasvi Jaiswals would like to keep the Gen-Next flag flying high as another season of Ranji Trophy starts with the domestic bulwarks ready to slog it out from Tuesday. Delhi, a team that is filled with some unbelievable talent, will meet a gutsy Maharashtra team in the latter’s den but will certainly feel a bit more confident as the home team misses its heart and soul.
If Ruturaj Gaikwad is the heart of the team, then Ankit Bawne is the soul but both the star batters are likely to miss the opening game due to groin and quadriceps injuries respectively. To make matters worse, Gaikwad’s Chennai Super Kings teammate Mukesh Chaudhary, the left-arm fast medium, is also out with a back niggle. At the opposite end is Delhi, the perennial underachievers, and a team that has more undercurrents inside the dressing room.
They will get the services of 100-Test veteran Ishant as well as the wily Simarjeet Singh, the maverick Nitish Rana, led by this season’s youngest skipper — the 20-year-old Yash Dhull. There will be IPL stars Lalit Yadav, Ayush Badoni, Hrithik Shokeen also in the mix.
As Maharashtra grapples with injury to its key players, it will be a different battle for Delhi where a captain with a total experience of eight first-class games will lead a team full of senior players with different temperaments, some with fragile egos and others with a completely different mindset.
Abhay Sharma, who has been a constant in Railway’s set-up at the Karnail Singh ground and also has spent considerable time in the India A and women’s set-up, is managing the Delhi team.
In the two tournaments so far, Abhay hasn’t displayed any exceptional strategic moves and Ranji Trophy, in its old format, will perhaps give him that time and platform to show his cricketing smarts as a coach.
Story of three men — Prithvi, Yashasvi, and Ajinkya
Two seasons back, Rahane was leading India in absence of Virat Kohli and didn’t have time to think about domestic cricket as the goal was to play 100 Test matches.
But two years is a lot of time in cricket and now as Mumbai captain, Rahane starts another journey against Hyderabad on Tuesday — a final shot at redemption, although, there is every possibility that his time may have passed.
Yet a 1000-run season is something that might just make the new selection committee ponder if he can be considered for the Test series against Australia in February.
For veterans Rahane and Ishant, a good Ranji Trophy will keep them in the reckoning for mini IPL auctions on December 23. The performance in the first two games, even though in red-ball format, might help them.
If Rahane is fighting an uphill battle, Prithvi Shaw is battling perceptions that travel thick and fast in Indian cricket and does affect the confidence of a player.
Leaner and fitter than in previous seasons, Shaw has certainly become smarter but the India or India A call-up is eluding him from time to time.
“Saibaba, you are watching everything” was one of his social media posts after a recent team announcement.
From selling ‘golgappas’ in Maidan to scoring a century in the recent ‘A’ Test series against Bangladesh A, Jaiswal has come a long way and with age on his side, one never knows if he will don the India whites in the next 18 months.
Those tireless men in domestic cricket
Jaydev Unadkat‘s call-up to the Test team is a testimony that domestic performances do get rewarded.
So once again, with pride and passion, you will see a Sheldon Jackson giving it his all for Saurashtra, while Baba Indrajith hitting those lovely shots square of the wicket would walk down the pitch, tap his bat and think, what else does he needs to do to make it to the India A team.
Or Mandeep Singh, who still sports a smile when he walks onto the bat and hits those pull shots.
The doyens of domestic cricket make Ranji Trophy what it is. Let the game begin.
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