For a change, the 78th Ranji Trophy season will have some known names in action. Providing star value to the domestic competition will be Punjab’s Harbhajan Singh, Uttar Pradesh’s Suresh Raina, Mumbai’s Rohit Sharma, Kerala’s S Sreesanth. Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel might also be seen in action if they recover in time from injury.
It’s not by choice that most of these big names will be doing the hard yards in the blue riband tournament of Indian cricket. After all, in the last 10 years, Harbhajan has found time only for a couple of Ranji games. They have been forced into it by the selectors who are adamant that they go back to the domestic grind and discover their form and rhythm.
Nevertheless, there will be more than the usual quota of internationals who will be seen regularly in action this time. Among the others trying to make a comeback to the Indian team through their state teams will be Tamil Nadu’s Murali Vijay and Abhinav Mukund, Uttar Pradesh’s Piyush Chawla and RP Singh and Haryana’s Amit Mishra. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman are also expected to make special appearances for Karnataka and Hyderabad when they get time before the Australia tour.
India’s most successful captain, Sourav Ganguly, has also decided to turn out for Bengal.
But it is not these high-profile players that the selectors will be spending most of their time on — they will have various options of getting a feedback on them.
Krishnamachari Srikkanth’s selection team’s challenge is to discover the potential replacements for the India stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, who are on their last legs in international cricket.
The picture is not exactly rosy and there is not much optimism at the start of the new season for it’s been nearly three seasons since Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble called time on their careers, but we can’t claim that their shoes have been filled.
Among young batsmen, Manish Pandey, Mandeep Singh, Suryakumar Yadav, Ishank Jaggi, Ashok Menaria and Unmukt Chand’s performances will be keenly followed.
Then there is the continuation of the long search for an all-rounder. In the desperate hunt, the Indian board has even named an incentive and the best all-rounder will be awarded the Lala Amarnath trophy. It remains to be seen whether it will have the desired result but the picture is barren.
There have been a few contenders, but none a genuine talent. It is a cause for worry that no name is also being brandied about.
He has to be a strike bowler and an attacking batsman; anything less comes in the bits and pieces category, says Bengal coach WV Raman, who is an authority on domestic cricket due to his long association with the game.
“An all-rounder is one who is capable of scoring hundreds and taking five wickets, and on a consistent basis. After Kapil Dev, we have been looking for one and that is where it is. We can’t pin somebody with that tag because he can bat and bowl,” said Raman.
The former India opener believes the season will also be important to unearth bowling talents. “The selectors will have to keep an eye on the bowlers. Our medium pace and spin department are not really settled.”
These are desperate times for Indian cricket. The talent pool is not exactly overflowing.