Ranji Trophy Group B - Balanced and brimming with title contenders

Last year runner-up Delhi, along with Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Bengal, Hyderabad, Andhra, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh will battle it out in the Elite Group B.

Tamil Nadu couldn't progress beyond the group stages in the 2017-18 season and would be looking to stay true to its billing this time around.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

The Ranji Trophy, the annual domestic extravaganza, gets underway from Thursday.

Last year runner-up Delhi, along with Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Bengal, Hyderabad, Andhra, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh will battle it out in the Elite Group B.

For Delhi, it would be a case of taking that 'one extra step' after faltering in the summit clash last year. A final appearance in the recently concluded Vijay Hazare Trophy will boost Delhi's claim for the top honours.

With the likes of Gautam Gambhir, Rishabh Pant and Shikhar Dhawan — who might feature in few games — in its ranks, Delhi looks solid in terms of experience.

 

First round fixtures

Andhra vs Punjab
Himachal Pradesh vs Bengal
Kerala vs Hyderabad
Tamil Nadu vs Madhya Pradesh

 

Youngster Manjot Kalra, who scored a century in the final of U-19 World Cup earlier this year, will be itching to make a memorable debut alongside the experienced duo of Nitish Rana and Dhruv Shorey.

READ: Andhra coach Monty Desai confident of good show

With a new skipper in Baba Indrajith and an experienced coach in Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Tamil Nadu has a healthy mix of youth and experience and will again be one of the strong contenders for the title. The team had a disastrous run last season, losing out in the group stages despite boasting of big match players. It would be hoping to stay true to expectations this time around.

International players like Ravichandran Ashwin, Dinesh Karthik, Washington Sundar and Vijay Shankar will be donning the state's cap and their experience can go a long way in shaping the team's fortunes. If Test opener Murali Vijay gets to play the first match, it would be a shot in the arm for Tamil Nadu. 

Youngsters such as N. Jagadeeshan, Rahil Shah, R, Sai Kishore and J.Koushik along with Baba Indrajith will act as the bridge between youth and experience.

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After making the Ranji Trophy knockouts last season, Bengal is also another contender from the Group C. Bengal would hope its disastrous start to the season this year — the team bowed out in the group stages of the Vijay Hazare Trophy — wouldn't be replicated.

Skipper Manoj Tiwary and coach Sairaj Bahutule have been given a two-match ultimatum before their performances are reviewed and the duo wouldn't want to leave it too late.

READ: Mandeep Singh to lead Punjab in Ranji opener against Andhra

The team has two new faces — all-rounder Shahbaz Ahmed and leg-spinner Prayash Ray Burman — and an able mentor in former coach Arun Lal.

The team isn't short of domestic star power with Ashoke Dinda, Anustup Majumdar, Shreevats Goswami and the likes Abhimanyu Easwaran having the experience of wading through the rough tide.

Hyderabad, Andhra and Punjab have able squads capable of producing upsets and advancing to the knockouts phase. Hanuma Vihari, Ricky Bhui (Andhra), Rohit Rayudu, Mehdi Hasan (Hyderabad), K.B. Arun Karthik, Basil Thampi and Jalaj Saxena (Kerala) would be some of the players to keep an eye on.

Players to watch out for

 

Dhruv Shorey: One of the batting mainstays for Delhi, Shorey would be the one to watch out for. The onus will be on the batsman to steady the ship in the middle order.

 

Baba Indrajith: A new captain for Tamil Nadu, Indrajith would be keenly watched by the fans and critics. Will captaincy bring the best out of the right-hander?

 

Jalaj Saxena: It will be business as usual for the veteran from Thursday. His form with the bat and handy off-spin would go a long way in shaping Kerala's fortunes.

 

Rohit Rayudu: A century, the first for Hyderabad in the season, in the Vijay Hazare gave us a glimpse of what he is capable of. Hyderabad will be reliant on this youngster's performance to make a mark in the longest format.

 

Hanuma Vihari: The Andhra run-machine has been rewarded with a place in the Indian team but that shouldn't let his domestic ambitions down. He would be keen to cement his place in the Indian team with some telling performances.