Ranji Trophy 2019-20: Marginal returns for opening batsmen

Traditionally openers have piled runs but this Ranji Trophy edition saw not a single opening batsman featuring in the top-20 run-getters this season.

Bengal skipper Abhimanyu Easwaran had a lukewarm Ranji season with the bat.   -  SUDHAKARA JAIN

From J. Arun Lal to Wasim Jaffer; Abhinav Mukund to Vikram Rathour; Shiv Sundar Das to Surendra Bhave; opening batsmen have emerged as run-machines in Ranji Trophy over the years.

But the recently-concluded edition saw a startling fact: not a single opening batsman featured in the top-20 run-getters this season.

In fact, the highest tally by an opener came from Goa’s Sumiran Amonkar (24th with 646 runs), who played in Plate Group, the lowest rung. Each of the last 20 editions of the tournament have seen at least one opener in the top-five run-getters.

So what has led to the drastic change in the openers’ numbers? Jaffer believes delayed start is a “major reason”.

“Since the tournament started in December this time around, the conditions were lopsided in favour of pace bowlers. Earlier we used to start in October, so conditions would be even,” Jaffer, the former India opener who retired last week as the highest run-getter in Ranji history, told Sportstar.

“Now it’s a one-way traffic for pacers. Even if the wicket has a little bit of help, because of the weather, the bowlers are always on top. Not just in the north, but a majority of places are so cold that it works against batsmen, especially openers. Add to that the SG ball that aides bowlers and it has made life difficult for the openers.”

Vijay Dahiya, the former India wicketkeeper-batsman who also coached Delhi to its last Ranji title in 2007-08, doesn’t see late start as a factor, but is worried about lack of runs from the likes of Priyank Panchal and Abhimanyu Easwaran.

Gujarat's Priyank Panchal failed to contribute significantly in the recently-concluded Ranji Trophy season.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

 

The duo has been regular with India A for the last couple of seasons but had a miserable season. While Panchal tallied 457 runs from 17 innings at 28,.57, Easwaran, who led Bengal into the final, scored just 258 runs at 17.20.

“A worrying trend is some of the regular openers who have been playing for India A haven’t been able to score runs in the Ranji Trophy, so I am not sure on what basis will they be persisted with the next time an India A or Rest of India squad has to be picked,” said Dahiya, who is a regular in commentary crew for domestic cricket.

D. Vasu, Tamil Nadu’s coach, feels the fact that some of the established cricketers from the bigger teams are missing a few games every season have also played a role in low returns.

“Senior players in a few sides were coming in and going out. Even for Tamil Nadu, we struggled to get an opener. Murali Vijay went out and then Abhinav Mukund didn’t play a few games,” Vasu said.

“We had problems as well. It has something to do with that probably. Once the senior batsmen go out, getting replacements becomes a problem.”

- Not enough time to prepare -

Jaffer concluded by pointing out the lack of time to prepare ahead of the tournament after a prolonged white-ball season.

For the last couple of years, the inter-state domestic season starts with the Vijay Hazare Trophy and moves on to Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, leaving barely a week for the players to prepare with the red ball.

“After playing one-dayers and T20s, suddenly in eight or 10 days if you start Ranji Trophy, you are bound to struggle. Even the best find it difficult to cope with the change in the formats and suddenly if you enter Ranji Trophy with that kind of weather, it’s bound to be challenging for openers,” he said.

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