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Ranji Trophy Report: Group A and B

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Number_one_Best_Greatest_cricketGroup A

October is a festive season in India. For cricket fanatics, it offers a lot as it is kicks off India’s premier domestic competition- the Ranji Trophy. The aroma of fresh willows, the damp outfield settling after a heavy monsoon and lots of aspirants trying to make it into India cricket team indicates a new season in India’s domestic cricket.

The 84th edition of Ranji Trophy began on 6th October with some changes in the format this season. There will be 4 groups instead of 3, with each team playing six fixtures in the group stage. Let’s have a look at teams in Group A and players from this group who can make an impact in this season.

1. Delhi

Delhi has produced some quality players in past few years, as well as successful captains- Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Unmukt Chand and the young Rishab Pant, who led India A against New Zealand A in 2 games. But there has been a drought of Ranji Trophy titles. The last time Delhi won Ranji Trophy was in 2007/08. Last season, Delhi won just 2 games and ended up 4th in group B, just 2 points short of making to the knockouts.

This season, Ishant Sharma has been appointed as captain for the first time. As per DDCA officials, this move will allow Gambhir to focus on his batting. Both of them started the season on a high against Assam. Gambhir scored 137 while Ishant took 5 wickets. Though Delhi narrowly missed out on a win, their strong performance in the opening game must have boosted the confidence level. With most of the senior players available throughout the season, Delhi has a great chance of entering quarter finals in this season.

Players to watch Out for:

Nitish Rana: After a brilliant season with Mumbai Indians in IPL 2017, Nitish Rana is looking to repeat his success in longest format of the game as well. He started a season with century against Assam.

Himmat Singh: Not much is known about him in India’s cricket circuit. He was amongst the probables for the Under 19 World Cup. He was in the squad in 2014 after successfully leading Delhi’s Under 19 side. He will be looking to make his first-class debut in this season.

2. Hyderabad

Hyderabad will be pleased to welcome back two of their own international players- Ambati Rayudu and Pragyan Ojha. Both of them are back to their home side with a point to prove to selectors. Hyderabad also has a good combination of left & right arm bowlers- Chama Milind and Mohammad Siraj. Hyderabad has produced quality Test cricketers like VVS Laxman and M. Azharuddin in the past. However, they last won the Ranji Trophy back in 1986/87.

Last season, Hyderabad won 4 games & topped group C with 31 points. In the quarter finals, they faced the mighty Mumbai team. They put up a good display but narrowly lost by a margin of 30 runs. Unfortunately, their 1st match this season against a weak Maharashtra got washed out. But with almost the same team combination and the inclusion of 2 experience players, Hyderabad will be looking to reach the knockouts and go beyond.

Players to watch Out for:

Ambati Rayudu: Rayudu’s last appearance for India was in 2016. This season, He should lead from the front for both his own and Hyderabad’s benefit.

Pragyan Ojha: After settling the disputes with Cricket Association of Bengal, Ojha is back with Hyderabad. The last Test he played was Sachin Tendulkar’s 200th and final Test, where he got the Man of the Match award. He is keen on this opportunity to once again grab the selectors’ attention.

3. Maharashtra

Maharashtra will be missing the services of Kedar Jadhav for most of the season, who has been a key player in the recent past. Maharashtra has performed well in the last few years. In 2013/14 they were the runners up and in 2014/15 they reached the semifinals. However, they could not qualify for the knockouts last year. Their 1st game against Hyderabad got washed out.

Ankit Bawne, who was involved in the 594 run partnership with Swapnil Gugale last season, will be back after the 2nd round. Bawne has played in the Ranji Trophy over 10 years and has significant experience under his belt. However, Maharashtra’s team look weak on paper. It will be difficult for them to qualify for the knockouts this season, given that they have some strong teams in their group.

Players to watch out for:

Rahul Tripathi: Rahul Tripathi was impressive for Rising Pune Supergiant in IPL 2017, where he was arguably the find of the season. In the absence of Jadhav and Bawne, he will be leading. If Maharashtra are to qualify for the knockouts, they will need Tripathi to fire at the top of the order and play a long innings.

4. Karnataka

Karnataka is the 2nd most successful side in Ranji Trophy history. They have won the Trophy 8 times, 2 of which were consecutive victories in 2013/14 and retaining the title in the next season. Karnataka has been one of the strongest teams in the last 5 seasons. They have quality players with good bench strength and a mix of youngsters and experienced, international players.

This time though, they will miss one key international player- Robin Uthappa who has made a move to Saurashtra. Yet Karnataka look all set to enter the knockouts. They have done it in the past and they know exactly how to gather points to remain in the top 2 of the group.

Players to watch out for:

Sreenath Arvind: The left arm fast bowler will be leading Karnataka’s bowling attack along with Vinay Kumar. He has shown his talent in IPL while playing for RCB. Aravind was handed his first cap in a T20I against South Africa in 2015. Earlier, he had been in line to make his ODI debut in 2011, but a knee injury prevented him from playing. He will be counting on an opportunity to try and re-enter the Indian team.

5. Uttar Pradesh

Just like Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh has a star studded team. Suresh Raina will be leading UP once again. They have never won the Ranji Trophy in the last decade. Though they have got good players, consistency is their main concern. They will be missing Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav for most of the season. Adding to that, Piyush Chawla will play for Gujarat this season.

Though they look strong on paper, they will need their youngsters to step up if they are to reach the knockout stage. In their 1st league match, they lost against Railways. Praveen Kumar, a seasoned campaigner, leads their bowling attack. There is a big void in the spin department and they had to play 17 year old debutant Zeeshan Ansari in their 1st game. Overall, UP’s chances look bleak this Ranji season.

Players to watch out for:

Suresh Raina: After being sidelined from the Indian team in Tests and ODIs, Ranji Trophy is the platform for him to get back into form. He will need to anchor UP’s innings as the other batsmen are very inexperienced.

6. Railways

One of the most underrated teams in Ranji Trophy is Railways, but they have almost the same squad as that of last year. Railways have won Ranji Trophy only once in 2001-02. This year they will be without their ace spinner Karn Sharma, who has moved to Vidharbha.

They managed to win their first game against UP but the road ahead in tournament is difficult. Last season, they finished last in group A. They will need to maintain the consistency and momentum they got in the 1st game. But, looking at the bigger picture, other teams in this group are far more capable than them.

Players to watch out for:

Anureet Singh: Anureet has been on selectors’ radar for last 2-3 years. He has shown his talent for Kings XI Punjab in IPL. He has been part of the India A & Rest of India XI teams in the past. He took 6 wickets in the match against UP to register a crucial win.

7. Assam

Clearly the weakest team in this group is Assam. They lost their opening game against Delhi and can only look to improve their performance.

Assam can play the role of spoilsport in the later stages of the league. If they deny victory to a team, that could change the results for the other teams of group A.

Players to watch out for:

Abu Nechim: Though Assam’s prospects of moving into the knockouts are negligible, Abu Nechim has a bright future. He has been part of several IPL sides and took 7 wickets against Delhi in the 1st innings. He will be looking to bag as many wickets as possible as he will probably get to play in only the league stage matches.

Quarter-Final probables: Delhi, Karnataka

Dark Horse: Hyderabad


Group B

Group B, with a number of strong teams, can be considered the “Group of Death” this season. With fierce competition, every point will be crucial when it comes to qualification to the quarter finals. Here are the teams in group B.

1. Gujarat

Gujarat are the defending champions. Last season, they did a fabulous job beating Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy final, something that no other team had done in last 25 years. They chased down a record 313 runs to win the Ranji Trophy for the first time.

This year too they have a very strong squad. Parthiv Patel, their most experienced player, will be leading the team again while the inclusion of Piyush Chawla is a huge boost for them. Along with Chawla, they have RP Singh, who played key role in their triumph last season. They have also got youngsters like Rush Kalaria and Priyank Panchal in the mix.

This season they look all set to enter the knockouts and defend their title. Defeating Gujarat will be an arduous task for all the teams in this season.

Players to watch out for:

Priyank Panchal: He scored 1,310 runs in 2016/17, ending up as the highest run scorer. He almost broke VVS Laxman’s record of scoring most runs in a single Ranji Trophy season. Priyank will be looking to surpass that record this season.

2. Haryana

The team that will most benefit from BCCI’s decision of playing home and away matches is Haryana. Their home ground, Bansilal Cricket Stadium, is a bowler’s paradise. Most of the matches there are result oriented, so there is a good chance of them earning those crucial winning points. Experienced Indian pace bowler Mohit Sharma will captain Haryana.

Last season, they ended up 2nd in group C, entering the knockouts but losing in the quarterfinals to Jharkhand. This time, they lost their opening match against Saurashtra by an innings and 31 runs. Though they have a good bowling line-up, they lack quality batsman. With only 2 teams proceeding from group this time, their chances of making it through are lower than they’d like.

Players to watch out for:

Mohit Sharma: He has been out of the Indian team for quite a while now, last playing an ODI in 2015. With the South Africa tour lined up in the next few months, Mohit will be hoping for a spot in the Test squad.

3. Rajasthan

There are many administrative problems in Rajasthan Cricket Association. This is reflected in their Ranji performance as well. For 2 consecutive years- 2010/11 and 2011/12 - they won the Ranji Trophy. Since then they have not been able to put up a good performance. Last season, they ended up second last in their group with only 12 points from 8 matches.

The positives for them are a good mix of younger and senior players. Pankaj Singh, who has ample experience bowling long spells, will be their captain. Along with him, they have Dishant Yagnik and Robin Bisht, who have been a part of Rajasthan’s campaigns when they won consecutive Ranji Trophy titles. They conceded a 1st innings lead and drew against Jammu and Kashmir in their first match. It will be difficult for them to break into the quarter finals.

Players to watch out for:

Mahipal Lomror: A 17-year-old will play a full season of Ranji Trophy for the first time. Lomror, a left-arm spinner and left handed batsman, was part of the India Under 19 team that were runners up in the 2016 U19 World Cup. He scored a fifty against J&K in 1st match. He is a great prospect for Indian cricket in the coming years.

Khaleel Ahmed: This southpaw was also a part of India’s Under 19 team and impressed throughout with his bowling performance. He has trained under Glenn McGrath at MRF pace academy and made his debut against J&K with decent figures of 33-17-77-2

4. Saurashtra

Though Gujarat are the defending champions, Saurashtra has to be the strongest team in this group. They have 4 international players in their playing XI who are likely to play most of the league matches. Cheteshwar Pujara, who returned from a successful county stint, will be their captain. With him they have Robin Uthappa, Ravindra Jadeja and Jaydev Unadkat, who will take the new ball.

Last year their performance was unimpressive, ending 3rd last in their group. This was mainly due to unavailability of their international players, on whom Saurashtra are heavily dependent. There is a huge gap of experience and potential between their marquee players and the rest, but in all likelihood they will end up leading group and are strong contenders for winning the Ranji Trophy.

Players to watch out for:

Ravindra Jadeja: Everyone knows how Jadeja made a comeback to Indian team in 2015/16 season on the back of outstanding Ranji Trophy performances. He will want to make a statement again as he is fighting for his place in the ODI and Test sides.

5. Jharkhand

Last season, Jharkhand impressed everyone by making it to semi- final. They ended up topping their group after winning 5 out of their 8 matches. Saurabh Tiwari, an experienced campaigner, will be leading them once again. They also have Varun Aaron available in the bowling unit.

They lost their 1st match against Kerala and have some instability in their batting line up. Saurabh Tiwari, their most experienced batsman, will need to hold their innings together. A lot will depend on Ishan Kishan’s form as well. Last year he amassed runs in every game, which was one of the reasons for Jharkhand’s success. With Gujarat and Saurashta already looking strong on paper, Jharkhand’s players need to apply themselves and win crucial matches to end up in top 2.

Players to watch out for:

Shahbaz Nadeem: Last season he was the highest wicket taker in the tournament with 56 wickets from just 10 matches. He will miss 2 games as he was selected for the India A team. But he will strengthen Jharkhand’s bowling attack.

6. Kerala

Kerala started their campaign positively, winning their 1st match against Jharkhand. Last season was not so good for them as they finished 5th in their group and won just a single match. This year they have a good chance of making it to the knockouts.

Their main strength will be their young players. This season, again they are placed in a group where they will need to carry the momentum from their 1st game. Sachin Baby will continue to be their captain. A big boost for them is their new coach- Dav Whatmore. A well-known, international coach should help them greatly. Even so, a lot will depend on how other teams play in final games.

Players to watch out for:

Jalaj Saxena: After switching to Kerala from Madhya Pradesh, Jalaj Saxena has continued to impress with his performances. He was awarded best all-rounder in 2015/16. In the 1st match against Jharkhand, he took 11 wickets. He is expected to end up in the top 5 wicket takers this season.

7. Jammu and Kashmir

J&K are no more the minnows in domestic cricket. They put up a fantastic performance against Rajasthan to take 1st innings lead and draw the match. Last season they could manage only 1 win in 9 matches but they have proved their potential in last few years. In 2014/15, they defeated Mumbai, the strongest team in the tournament, by 4 wickets.

Parvez Rasool will be the pillar of their team as he is the only player with international experience in the squad. Given the strong competition in group B, J&K are unlikely to make it to the quarterfinals. But it will be a great platform for the players to perform and get some experience, as well as attention from selectors.

Players to watch out for:

Parvez Rasool: J&K are hugely dependent on him. He will be keeping one eye on his comeback to the national team, however unlikely it may be. Having played only 1 ODI and 1 T20, Rasool still has lots of ground to cover to become a regular member of Indian Cricket team.

Quarter-Final probables: Gujarat, Saurashtra

Dark Horse: Kerala, Jharkhand

 

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