Seniors grace Ranji

Sourav Ganguly takes a look at his batting chart on a laptop after his innings of 88 for Bengal against Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy. Ganguly played in the match after Chairman of Selectors Kiran More took exception to his missing Ranji matches.-PTI

BY direct and indirect methods, wittingly and unwittingly, three senior players brought Ranji into sharp focus this season. Sourav Ganguly giving two matches a miss, for personal reasons, created a storm because an incensed Kiran More went ballistic, he first expressed disappointment and then demanded an explanation from the former Indian captain. Dada, seemingly unfazed, responded by sending a polite reply on email, which the BCCI found satisfactory and this buried the matter. Only temporarily, as the controversy, and the public outcry, ensured that there is all round agreement that Ranji needs to be treated better. The resultant noise clearly indicates that avoiding a first class game is more serious than missing a boring lecture in college, players have a responsibility to turn out for the state, they owe it to their team and to Indian cricket. Moreover, and this is not a trifling matter in times of professionalism/legalities and guaranteed payments, contracted players are required under clauses accepted by them to remain fit, and make themselves available for matches.

Virender Sehwag went the other route, yet made a profound impact on Ranji by playing two games to bale out a beleaguered Delhi facing relegation to Plate. He could easily have rested ahead of the Pakistan tour but chose to play, bowled 20 overs in an innings, some of them offbreaks with the new ball on a dusty track against the Railways. Delhi won that crucial match but Sehwag, speaking aggressively from the front foot so to say, minced no words in slamming the DDCA. He blasted the selectors for picking the wrong people, ignoring talent, promoting their favourites and not listening to the captain.

Then, in equally explicit terms, he took the Board to task for allowing first class games to be staged on substandard tracks. The Railway stadium, he fumed, had no wicket, only an uneven patch of turf with holes, unfit for any grade of competitive cricket. Using home advantage is one thing but, he asked, should not there be a consideration for actions that hurt Indian cricket? Sehwag's colleagues V. V. S. Laxman and Anil Kumble too made a point in support of Ranji but in a quieter, subtle manner. Both turned out for their sides as loyal and disciplined soldiers showing admirable commitment. Kumble is not the same age as Piyush Chawla/Amit Mishra/ Abhishek Sharma but still bowled long spells in the Delhi Ranji match. Which shows that in cricket, success and contribution to the game is not measured just in terms of wickets/strike and economy rates but attitude.

Virender Sehwag, the Delhi captain, minces no words.-RAJEEV BHATT

In Jaipur, watching Rajasthan play Kerala, veteran spinner Rajinder Goel (the match referee) spoke feelingly about young spinners being too defensive. All of them, he said, are happy to just run in and roll their arm over with the aim of avoiding getting hit. This mindset stunts the growth of bowlers, the art of taking wickets gets lost, and any ordinary batsman with patience is able to make runs. This pains Goel saab who took a wicket or two, actually 750 with 5 wickets in an innings an astonishing 59 times. Regrettably he played only one unofficial game for India but at the domestic level he was a complete king. In a career spanning 26 years (1958-84) he played with father and son (Lala and Surinder/Mohinder Amarnath, Pankaj and Pronob Roy) but narrowly missed out playing with son Nitin, who made his Ranji debut one match after he hung up his spikes. Goel saab's left arm spin was tight and relentless, he was a master at creating pressure, not giving gifts, forcing batsmen to work hard for runs. His stamina was such bowling 40 overs a day was no sweat, and he'd get through his overs so quickly a young Kapil Dev, standing at fine leg, complained he did not get time even to put his sweater on!

Hanumant Singh, Chairman, Rajasthan Selection Committee, also watched the proceedings, he saw captain Jadeja take control after the top order collapsed on a slow turner. Jadeja guided the middle order, using his vast experience he kept good balls away but promptly pounced on loose balls to score runs. Tinu Yohanan (who travelled from the backwaters of Kerala to the Indian team but now languishes in the backwaters of Indian cricket) tested batsmen by keeping a probing line but Sreesanth, the new sensation, absent due to injury was sorely missed.

Rajasthan, under a new management, is making a serious move to extricate themselves from the Plate division. The RCA has announced a cash bonus of one lakh rupees to each player if they make the Elite group. The team is improving, mainly due to Jadeja's impressive leadership, but must surmount one more hurdle to make the higher grade. While Rajasthan could be on the way up, two other teams are in serious danger of falling off the ladder. Delhi has underperformed consistently this season. Unable to shake off controversies or overcome its internal problems, it played poor cricket and did not look a side that once dominated domestic cricket. The top order failed miserably, Akash Chopra was so out of sorts he would like to erase this season from his memory. Shikhar Dhawan stagnated, and others performed only in fits and starts. Mayank Tehlan made a big hundred on debut, that too in extremely difficult conditions, and is obviously talented but soon found out that cricket at the senior level is challenging. Delhi's bowling attack lacked quality, senior spinners Sarandeep and Rahul Singhvi lost their places, but leggie Chetanya Nanda's emergence raised hopes for the future.

Delhi was not the only North Zone team hit by internal troubles. Himachal underwent a massive upheaval when the BCCI derecognised the state association, its matches were consequently rescheduled, and a fresh squad selected. The new dispensation saw the return of Rajiv Nayyar, the former captain known for dogged, defensive batting, the kind of player who goes out to the middle with the intention of being there 90 overs, and is satisfied to be 20 not out at lunch.