Ranji Trophy: Marathon new season starts amid confusion

With 37 participating teams, the Ranji Trophy in its 85th edition will return with a lot of more action.

The victorious Gujarat team after beating Mumbai in the final of 2016-17 Ranji Trophy final.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Almost half of the senior tournaments in the domestic calendar may have been over, but the real deal – as they say – begins on Thursday. The Ranji Trophy in its 85th edition – will return with a lot of more action, thanks to the addition of a plethora of new teams. Before the start of the premier competition, it is 'confusion' for the 37 participating teams. Not just confusion, there are other issues too.

The new qualification system

The tournament will follow the same qualification system that was in place for the Vijay Hazare Trophy. As a result, five teams from a combined pool of two elite groups of nine teams each, two from Group C of 10 teams and one from the Plate group of nine teams will qualify for the knock-outs. The most confusing factor is obviously the system followed for the top two groups.

Read: Ranji Trophy - 'A' group of heavyweights

The system – primarily been devised as per the Committee of Administrators' diktat of one team from the pool of newbies must feature in the knock-outs – effectively means that five of the top 18 teams will progress to the quarterfinals. What's intriguing is the standings of two different groups will be combined despite each team not having played against half the teams in the pool of 18. As a result, the teams will be forced to factor in the performance of teams in the other group as well besides tracking those in their own group.

If one group has plenty of results and the other is dominated by the draws, it could well happen that purely based on points accumulated, all five teams that qualify may be from one group. To avoid that, teams are hoping for rational pitches.

Neutral curators

To maintain the balance in the top two groups, neutral curators – introduced last season – will play a crucial role in terms of offering sporting pitches for all the games. There were sparse cases of a certain venue being looked after by local groundsmen who tried their best to lend advantage to the home team whereas other matches in the same group being played with a BCCI-appointed neutral curator overlooking the pitch preparation. Despite the glitches, a majority of teams were satisfied with the appointment of neutral pitches last season. And all the teams are keeping their fingers crossed over the kind of surfaces that will be offered this time around.

Also read: Group B - Balanced and brimming with title contenders

Availability of top players

As if India's international fixtures wasn't enough to dilute the Ranji Trophy, the addition of India A series in New Zealand would further weaken domestic teams. No doubt that the India A exposure is paramount in player development but the BCCI will have to think of how to achieve it without the domestic circuit suffering. Some of the top teams this season would be unsettled with players coming in and going away, and may as well have three or four captains throughout the tournament.

READ: Group C: Out to make a case for promotion

Newbies galore

Thanks to the administrative reforms, the BCCI was forced to add nine teams to the Ranji Trophy this time around. The rookies – Puducherry, Bihar, Nagaland, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Sikkim – are clubbed in Group D. With a majority of these teams having been awarded first-class status, especially the ones from the north-east, despite the lack of basic cricket culture and infrastructure, it could well happen that most of these teams will rely heavily on the professional recruits.

ALSO READ: Plate Group: Nine teams ready for biggest challenge yet

  • The Ranji Trophy will have its biggest pool, with 37 teams being divided in four groups. It also effectively means that the tournament will feature the most number of matches in a season – 160 – in its history.
  • Wasim Jaffer, three months shy of turning 41, will start his 23rd domestic season as the leading run-getter. The closest active batsman to Jaffer's tally of 10,738 runs is Madhya Pradesh's Naman Ojha, who is 13th in the list with 7,260 runs.
  • Karnataka's R. Vinay Kumar (383 wickets) and Pankaj Singh (366 wickets), who has moved from Rajasthan to debutant team Puducherry, will continue their race to become the first pacer to dismiss 400 batsmen in the Ranji Trophy. All the other bowlers in the 400-wicket club – Rajinder Goel (637), S. Venkataraghavan (530), Sunil Joshi (479), Narendra Hirwani (441), B.S. Chandrasekhar (437), V.V. Kumar (418), Sairaj Bahutule (405), Bishan Singh Bedi (403) and Utpal Chatterjee (401) – are spinners.
  • Naman Ojha of Madhya Pradesh needs 16 dismissals behind the stumps to eclipse former Assam and Mumbai wicketkeeper Vinayak Samant's record of 335 victims.