Ranji Trophy: Rare distinction at stake for Vidarbha, Karnataka in biggest edition

The Ranji Trophy this time around is most likely going to be about cricketers ‘playing for pride’ and to stake a claim for soon-to-be-introduced domestic contracts.

Another title win for Vidarbha will see it join Bombay in an elite club.   -  PTI

Relevance and context. These are the oft-used terms when it comes to discussing the fate of Test cricket in an era of instant results. When it comes to the 86th Ranji Trophy, which starts on Monday with 19 matches scheduled to get underway in the opening league round, one can’t help but wonder whether the biggest edition — at least in terms of the number of participating teams — will also struggle to find relevance and context over the next three months.

With the overbearing emergence of India A tours, the Ranji Trophy is no longer the most important tournament for a domestic cricketer to knock on the doors of the national selectors and get a call-up in the Test squad. Also, India’s international fixtures are so dominated by white-ball cricket in 2020 that the Ranji Trophy performances are hardly going to matter in the larger scheme of things.

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India is not scheduled to play a Test match at home until February, 2021. Besides, after the two Tests in New Zealand in February-March, Virat Kohli’s men could well wear whites only in November, in Australia. As a result, the Ranji Trophy this time around is most likely going to be about cricketers ‘playing for pride’ and to stake a claim for soon-to-be-introduced domestic contracts.

No wonder then that during the week-long gap between the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the Ranji Trophy, most Ranji teams saw Indian Premier League (IPL) aspirants prefer to skip training at the cost of pre-auction trials organised by virtually all the IPL franchisees.

Hat-trick or treble?

Despite the oddities, the cricket connoisseurs will be hoping either for a rare hat-trick or the first treble in the history of domestic cricket to be achieved in March, 2020. No team except Bombay — which won 15 successive triumphs from 1958-59 to 1972-73 — has won three titles in a row. Vidarbha — with captain Faiz Fazal and coach Chandrakant Pandit at the helm — is hoping to join the domestic powerhouse to achieve the rare feat. With the core of the team having virtually remained the same for the third season in succession, Vidarbha can well continue to stamp its supremacy on the coveted trophy yet again.

Read | K'taka eyes ninth title

The biggest challenge Vidarbha will face will be by Karnataka. The southern giant has already maintained a clean record, having swept the white-ball season with the Vijay Hazare Trophy and the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy triumphs. It will be hoping to become the first team to complete the treble of inter-State titles in a season by winning Ranji.

Only if one of these two teams emerges champion will the Ranji Trophy’s 86th edition not lack in relevance or context.