Once the backbone of Indian Test batting, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane are now at the crossroads of their careers. There is a road ahead, but it can be paved only with consistency. While both have been great servants of Indian cricket, run-scoring remains the actual currency rather than history.
Shreyas Iyer's century and fifty in his debut Test against New Zealand has turned the spotlight squarely on the experienced duo. So, all eyes will be trained on them when defending champion Saurashtra faces domestic powerhouse Mumbai in a Group D Ranji Trophy match at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad from Thursday.
Rahane last scored a hundred in December 2020 against Australia. Since then, he has averaged 20.25 in 27 Test innings. Rahane played the Ranji Trophy in 2019-20, the last time the domestic red-ball tournament was held.
Meanwhile, Pujara's last ton was also against Australia in 2019. He has averaged 27.38 in 48 Test innings since. Pujara played the Ranji Trophy in 2019-20 when he helped Saurashtra win the title.
With India's next Test series, against Sri Lanka, starting March 4, the national selectors will be watching closely as well.
But at a time when a cramped international calendar means India regulars are seldom available for Ranji Trophy, the presence of Rahane and Pujara will further raise the profile of the contest.
Saurashtra seamer Chetan Sakariya has backed his team to hold sway. "Mumbai's a strong side. But we won the last title, so I feel we will start as favourites," Sakariya said.
It will also be a chance for Prithvi Shaw to show his captaincy credentials. Jaydev Unadkat and Sheldon Jackson would want to prove a point too. Unadkat has not played international cricket since 2018. Snell Patel could take over wicketkeeping duties from Avi Barot, who passed away in 2021 following a cardiac arrest.
Mumbai coach Amol Muzumdar is elated to have days cricket back. "It's great news not just for the players but also for all umpires, curators, and many more stakeholders involved in the game."
In 2021, Ranji Trophy had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. It was the first time the tournament, India's premier first-class competition, was not played since its inception in the 1934-35 season. With 38 teams in the fray, the resumption of the Ranji Trophy — in two phases, split by the IPL — promises to breathe fresh life into domestic cricket.
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