Ranji Trophy: 'A' group of heavyweights

Defending champion Vidarbha, domestic giants Mumbai and Karnataka and an unpredictable Saurashtra form the core in 2018-19 season. 

Defending champion Vidarbha will look to continue its fairytale run in the new season.   -  R.V. Moorthy

When Rajneesh Gurbani choked the in-form Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy semifinal last December, the anticipation for the next season had already begun to explore the potential match-winners who could represent India in the future. India’s bench strength is perhaps the best at the moment and the upcoming red-ball season will be a workshop of sorts.

Vidarbha – the defending champion 

Defending champion Vidarbha remains the talking point in the group of death. Led by a young Faiz Fazal, and anchored by the seasoned Wasim Jaffer — the batting line-up looks classy.  Gurbani — who claimed 39 wickets in six games — will not be available to lead the pace attack after the BCCI advised state associations to leave out pacers who were part of the India A team touring New Zealand for the first round of the Ranji Trophy fixtures. Off-spinner Akshay Wakhare — 211 wickets in eight games from the last season — will lead the spin department.

Shreyas Iyer has been named skipper for Mumbai's opening fixture against Railways.   -  Vivek Bendre

 

Mumbai – the ultimate ‘favourite’

After clinching the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2018-19, Mumbai restored the ‘favourite’ tag. The 41-time Ranji champion will flaunt a new skipper in Shreyas Iyer and a sound coach in Vinayak Samant — the combination that reaped benefits in the one-dayers. But Mumbai will not have the full-strength it had for the Hazare knockouts. It will miss the services of Ajinkya Rahane (India A duty), Rohit Sharma (Australia tour), Prithvi Shaw (Australia tour) and Shardul Thakur (injury).  Jay Bista and Tushar Deshpande — the pace express who made a comeback in the domestic season after nursing an injury for two years — are capable of compensating for the absence of Shaw and Thakur.  Dhawal Kulkarni will lead the pace attack with Deshpande. Slow left-arm bowler Shams Mulani is not easy to read too. 

READ: Siddhesh Lad banks on pace-heavy Mumbai

It remains to be seen if Manish Pandey will be handed the captaincy of the Karnataka Ranji Trophy team.   -  Special Arrangement

 

Karnataka – the toughies

Producing champions such as K.L. Rahul, Karun Nair and Mayank Agarwal — Karnataka is a powerhouse of cricketing talent at the moment.  Karnataka is expected to announce its squad in the first week of November as it begins its campaign from November 12.  Manish Pandey replaced R. Vinay Kumar as skipper in the one-dayers. It remains to be seen if Pandey will eventually lead the side, at least in the first half. He is due to fly to New Zealand for India A duties in December. There is still no clarity on Karun Nair’s availibility. All eyes will be on young gun Abhishek Reddy (opener) if he makes the cut. Ravikumar Samarth’s experience will be handy.  Karnataka is likely to miss its champion batsman Mayank Agarwal. The right-hander missed out on the tour of Australia, but he will be touring with India A. Krishnappa Gowtham and Shreyas Gopal are utility all-rounders who could make a difference.

Saurashtra – the unpredictable

Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja will bolster the Saurashtra combination, at least in the first few games. The side, coached by ex-Saurashtra batsman Sitanshu Kotak, is a mix of youth and experience. Veteran Jaydev Shah will lead the side, and there are young prospects such as leggie Yuvraj Chudasama and right-handed batsman Samarth Vyas. Jaydev Unadkat will lead the pace attack.  Saurashtra will miss ace cricketer Robin Uthappa as he has been ruled out with an ankle injury for six to eight weeks. Among the other teams in fray, Gujarat — led by Parthiv Patel for the first few games — will be the darkhorse.   Maharashtra stands a good chance to upset the big guns too. Rahul Tripathi is a proven champion and Ankeet Bawne — after his India-A assignments — will bring in new strategies to outplay the opponents. Baroda, Chhattisgarh and Railways are likely to remain under the shadow of the big guns. But Vidarbha’s triumph last season proved how uncertainty is still a part of the sport.