A big-ticket event — that’s the consensus

As a domestic first-class tournament, the Ranji Trophy has always enjoyed a special status in the country. While many players still consider playing in the tournament a reward in itself, the Ranji Trophy remains the gateway for many youngsters aspiring for the India cap. Here are a few stalwarts from the domestic circuit speaking on what the Ranji Trophy means to them.

Hari Gidwani... “I take pride in having played the Ranji Trophy when it was as good as international cricket.”   -  SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Hari Gidwani

We always looked forward to the Ranji Trophy season. In my time we had cricket stars from colleges. Universities cricket was big, and it was considered a big thing if you happened to play Ranji Trophy. Ranji Trophy players enjoyed a special status in colleges. There was, of course, hard work because Ranji Trophy attracted the best of players. It was extremely tough to get into the Ranji Trophy team, and tougher still to keep your place.

I always looked forward to the season because Ranji Trophy meant testing your cricketing acumen and strength. Doing well against big teams gave me the confidence and the drive to carry on and improve. I loved to interact with some of the international stars, and I tried to imbibe their strong points. Ranji Trophy was cricket education. I take pride in having played the Ranji Trophy when it was as good as international cricket.

Ranji performance — Matches: 93; Runs: 5541; Highest score: 229; Average: 47.35.

Amarjeet Kaypee

Ranji Trophy was the ultimate those days; it was a dream to play in it. When I first played in the tournament, it was like I had nothing more to achieve.

To play in the Ranji Trophy you had to be better than thousands of active cricketers. It was hard work no doubt, but the tournament was a platform that helped you earn a special place in the society.

I prepared for each Ranji Trophy season vigorously, because it was the ladder to international cricket. I was past 30 when I was dropped from the North Zone team for the Duleep Trophy, but it did not mean that I ignored the Ranji Trophy. It remained my first priority.

Over the years, the tournament grew into a highly competitive one, and I enjoyed it even more because I could test myself in the company of younger talent.

Even in my last season, I had an average of 47.00, which meant I could have gone on. But then there was no chance for me to play for India, and so I did not wish to block a youngster’s spot. There was no Indian Premier League in my active playing days, and Ranji Trophy was the biggest platform. I am glad I did well in this premier cricket tournament of India.

Ranji performance — Matches: 109; Runs: 7623; Highest score: 210 not out; Average: 54.06.

Rajinder Singh Hans

It was a very important tournament. The Duleep Trophy was the next best because it was a zonal competition, but Ranji was the much-awaited event of the season. There was a lot of relevance attached to the matches; they were challenging since the best of players participated. Performance in the Ranji Trophy was paramount, and every game was big. It was a matter of pride that we were playing first-class cricket because a performance here would propel us into the national reckoning. We would play on uncovered pitches, and believe me, it was such a challenge — be it scoring runs or taking wickets.

I was lucky to have performed long enough and to always command a place on merit. My best memory was the nine wickets I took in an innings in the final against Karnataka in Mohan Nagar (1977-78).

We used to travel to the venues by train (three-tier) or in buses with broken windows, but it was great fun. To play in the Ranji Trophy was a reward in itself.

Ranji performance — Matches: 58; Wickets: 278; Best: 9-152; Average: 19.38.

K. P. Bhaskar

For cricketers of my generation, Ranji Trophy was huge. It was a ticket to fame, a ticket to progress to the higher levels of the game. There was meaning to the competition, in the sense that it brought the cream of Indian cricketers to a single platform where they had perform to their best. The dressing room was a galaxy of stars really. For a youngster, just sharing the dressing room with the stalwarts of the game was a motivation to pursue cricket, and I was no different.

K. P. Bhaskar (right) with Gautam Gambhir at a training session of the Delhi team during the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy season. Bhaskar says that in his time, the Ranji Trophy was a ticket to fame.   -  AKHILESH KUMAR

 

Playing in the Ranji Trophy was like playing for the country. One would wait eagerly for the season to begin, and with it our cricket lessons would begin too.

It was a wonderful experience travelling together, though not always in luxury or comfort. But it was a learning process that helped me grow as a person.

Playing in different conditions and on challenging pitches honed our game. Batsmen and bowlers had to be at their best. I was fortunate to have played Ranji Trophy when it was highly competitive.

Ranji performance — Matches: 71; Runs: 4097; Highest score: 222 not out; Average: 56.12.

Ashish Winston Zaidi

Ranji Trophy was a part of my life. I played a lot of junior cricket and graduated to represent Uttar Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy. It was a great learning process. Watching the seniors and learning from them helped me grow as a person, and a player too. The ultimate aim was to play the Ranji Trophy and perform well enough to earn the India cap.

I had to work very hard because we did not have many facilities those days. Seniors players like Gopal Sharma and Gyanendra Pandey taught me a lot. I was always hungry for wickets and that helped me in my Ranji Trophy career.

Ranji performance — Matches: 93; Wickets: 348; Best: 9-45; Average: 26.15.

Daljit Singh

Playing in the Ranji Trophy was a matter of pride; it was actually life. Cricket was my life, and it meant preparing and doing well in the Ranji Trophy. There was nothing above the Ranji Trophy for me.

I played for Bihar for 15 years, and believe me, it was a great learning process. When you play for a small state or a small team you tend to gain more in terms of responsibility. I enjoyed every match. Both winning and losing taught us to accept the realities of life. I had an average of 38-plus as a batsman and was rated well for my wicket-keeping technique.

I don’t regret not playing for India. To me, playing Ranji itself was satisfying. How many in our country get to play first-class cricket?

I remember my last Ranji match against Bombay. It was a very hot day and Bombay scored 577. I did not concede a single bye. That was very satisfying. And then I scored 121 and 45 not out. That was even more satisfying because the runs came against the likes of Padmakar Shivalkar and Karsan Ghavri.

Ranji Trophy was a great journey and I would not exchange it for anything in my life.

Ranji performance — Matches: 65; Runs: 3236; Highest score: 145; Average: 38.07; Catches/stumpings: 129/58.

Mithun Manhas

When I was growing up, I dreamed of playing for India. I was then told to first qualify to play in the Ranji Trophy. What’s the big deal (about playing the Ranji), I first wondered, but soon realised that it was a hugely competitive tournament. It then became my aim to play the Ranji Trophy.

I made my Ranji debut in 1997. Nothing could ever match the joy of sharing the dressing room with a stalwart like Raman Lamba. There were some great icons of the game and the Ranji Trophy gave me the opportunity to interact with them. It was a tournament where you had to perform exceedingly well to earn a ticket to the Indian dressing room.

Over the years, I am sorry to say, the quality of the Ranji Trophy has suffered. In my time it was very competitive. You had to possess good technique and temperament to excel in the Ranji Trophy. There were so many India players on the circuit and meeting them during the Ranji Trophy was great.

Ranji performance — Matches: 135; Runs: 8554; Highest score: 193; Average: 48.32.

Ranadeb Bose

I have moved on in life after failing to achieve the Test cap. I had ticked all the boxes, but still didn’t get the opportunity. But that has not made me frustrated. I did my Level A and B coaching courses to stay attached to the game. I was a coach for the Bangladesh Under-19 team and now I am enjoying my stint with the Bengal side. I want to continue in this role for two more years. But my ultimate ambition is to serve a Ranji side as the head coach.

The Ranji Trophy standard at present is good. Apart from the traditionally strong teams such as Mumbai, Delhi, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, other teams are also coming up. The current champion, Gujarat, is a good example of this.

Ranji performance — Matches: 73; Wickets: 266; Best: 7-24; Average: 24.77.

Surendra Bhave

To be honest, we played Ranji for junoon (passion). Yes, you always had this at the back of the mind that you could play for India if you did well, but the key was to play for your state. It used to be a battle for pride back then. Now it’s a battle for survival. Those days, we enjoyed cricket to entirety. The camaraderie within and between the teams used to be outstanding. There was a lot of fan-following. People held you in high esteem if you were a Ranji Trophy cricketer. People looked up to you as if you were an India cricketer, and there was a loyal set of fans who would religiously follow local and domestic cricket.

Today’s young cricketers are motivated. Things have changed with time and for good. They are disciplined. They know that two-three Ranji hundreds at the right time can get them into the India ‘A’ team.

They realise that there is a lot of thrust on the India Under-19 set-up for the big call-up, so they are more professional from a young age. But this generation is more focussed on making a career out of cricket. That they have more exposure in terms of the IPL and India ‘A’ tours also helps them retain their focus and earn money. During our time, there was always this one-match dilemma. If you could not perform in that one match, you were history as far as playing for India was concerned. Now with so many opportunities, the players know they can come back and stake a claim for the India cap. That is where the Ranji Trophy is relevant. And I am sure it will remain so even in future.

Ranji performance — Matches: 79; Runs: 6543; Highest score: 274; Average: 60.58.

Shrikant Kalyani

I was scoring heavily in the zonal league of the Ranji Trophy, but was not getting the chances. Even after scoring consistently in the Ranji Trophy, such was the strength of West Zone’s batting that I could not get an opportunity in the playing XI for a Duleep Trophy game. So I took the call to move to a different zone and I have no regrets about it.

Ranji Trophy was the base for a domestic cricketer’s dreams to come true. Every youngster knew that if he performed well in the Ranji, only then would he get a call-up to the zonal squad. If he had aspirations to play a higher level of cricket, the Ranji Trophy was the first level.

If one were to compare the eras, I think the number of matches is a huge differentiator. During our time, we were assured of only four zonal league games every year, so the pressure of performing in those games was immense. Today, the boys are lucky. Until last year, they were assured of eight games; now it is six. It makes a lot of difference. I am happy for them. For us, those four matches used to be the most important games for a year.

The cricketers of today should realise the importance of the Ranji Trophy. They should value the Ranji matches. After all, this is the only base. Every budding cricketer in India must strive for succeeding in the Ranji Trophy.

Ranji performance — Matches: 82; Runs: 5258; Highest score: 260; Average: 52.05.

J. Arunkumar

I always played the game the way I wanted to. A lot of coaches told me to change the way I batted; I received a lot of advice. But I took on board only those things that could bring results in my game. Not everybody can play for the country, I agree. I enjoyed my cricket completely. I have no regrets at all.

VISAKHAPATNAM, ANDHRA PRADESH, 22/12/2016: Karnataka captain R. Vinay Kumar and batting coach J. Arun Kumar in a discussion at ACA-VDCA stadium in Visakhapatnam on December 22, 2016, ahead of the team's Ranji Trophy quarterfinal match against Tamil Nadu starting tomorrow. Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam   -  C. V. Subrahmanyam

 

Among my happiest memories on the field are the two Ranji Trophy finals (1997-98 and 1998-99). Both were at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium and I got hundreds in both. One hundred for India ‘A’ in the West Indies (110 vs. Guyana in Nov. 1999) was particularly good. I felt it was a really good knock.

Over the course of my playing career (from 1993 to 2008), a lot changed in domestic cricket, particularly the discipline, the fitness, and the fielding standards. The transition was huge. When we started out, certain teams were always bad. There were some teams we recognised as weak. But over the years, we saw that everyone was improving, everyone was getting professional. The coaches were good, the areas the bowlers were bowling in was fantastic. It just evolved.

The BCCI and State associations started giving players good facilities. Players started understanding what being professional was all about. Bowlers who were ordinary started becoming good. Teams which were ordinary became more professional in their approach. The gap between a good team and a bad team narrowed down.

Ranji performance — Matches: 91; Runs: 5897; Highest score: 171; Average: 43.04.

Sitanshu Kotak

The Ranji Trophy prepares a cricketer for all the challenges. It is the backbone of Indian cricket. If you start playing the Ranji Trophy, all those thoughts of national selection don’t even come to your mind. You know your job is to perform and you just do that.

Initially you start playing the tournament to get noticed by the national selectors. But after a while, you just play the Ranji because you fall in love with the tournament.

In our time, the Ranji Trophy was very tough, because the competition was more. You had to work harder to earn your spot. The focus then was more on Mumbai and Delhi. So, that made us work harder. That way, I improved my game.

Ranji performance — Matches: 121; Runs: 7607; Highest score: 168 not out; Average: 42.26.

As told to Vijay Lokapally, Y. B. Sarangi, Amol Karhadkar, Shreedutta Chidananda & Shayan Acharya

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