The second-round Ranji Trophy match between Maharashtra and Delhi played at the Wankhade last weekend had two young batsmen scoring triple centuries — Rishabh Pant for Delhi and Swapnil Gugale for Maharashtra.
While a triple century at any level is a testament to the batsmen’s talent, technique, and temperament, when we look at the history top run-getters in the Ranji Trophy down the years, a big score doesn’t necessarily earn him an India call-up or lead to an equally brilliant international career.
Out of the top 10 highest individual scorers in Ranji, six have scored at least one Test century. Gugale is up and coming while Bhausaheb Nimbalkar (famous for his unbeaten 443 for Maharashtra in 1948-49) and MV Sridhar (366 for Hyderabad in 1993-94) are two batsmen whose performance on the domestic circuit was not rewarded with an India cap.
The list, like all scoreboards, doesn’t tell the entire story. Sanjay Manjrekar, Vijay Merchant, VVS Laxman, Sunil Gavaskar and KL Rahul made their Ranji triple hundreds after making their international debuts. In Gavaskar’s case, it came almost a decade into his international career.
Cheteshwar Pujara (who has two triple centuries) and Ravindra Jadeja are the only cricketers on the list to have made their international debut after hitting a Ranji triple.
Pujara made his debut against Australia within two years of scoring his maiden triple century, an unbeaten 302 against Odisha in Rajkot. Pujara hasn’t been as successful in the shorter formats but reconfirmed his importance in Tests by aggregating 373 runs in the recent Test series against New Zealand.
Jadeja’s debut, against England, came just over a week after becoming the first Indian to score three Ranji triple centuries — against Orissa (2011), Gujarat and Railways (2012). Yet, in the 20 Tests he has played since his record-breaking feat, he has only mustered two fifties.
While Jadeja’s lack of big scores can be attributed to his batting really low — at No. 7 nowadays for India — where opportunities to bat long are rare, it still begs the question whether success at Ranji level translates to something equally big in international cricket.
The answer, as reflected in the contrasting careers of Jadeja and Saurashtra teammate Pujara, is not so straightforward. Unlike pre-IPL times where performance in Ranji Trophy guaranteed selection, not everyone who scores big is picked nowadays.
It takes time
Take Ajinkya Rahane for example. In the 2008-09 season when Wasim Jaffer topped the charts with 1260 runs, Rahane finished with 1089 runs. It was also the year Pujara scored his first triple century. Yet, it took both a fairly long time to make it to the India squad.
Rahane had to grind it out in the IPL to make it to the ODI squad in 2011 and finally the Test squad two years later. The presence of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman in the middle-order meant he had to bide his time. He now commands an average of 51.37 with eight centuries and nine fifties.
When Maharashtra’s Kedar Jadhav finished the 2013-14 season as the highest scorer with 1223 runs and six centuries, he was tipped to make the India squad. He was one of the best players for Delhi Daredevils in the subsequent IPL and even has an ODI century to his name. But Jadhav hasn’t exactly set the stage on fire to break into a packed Test team.
Out of 37 triple centuries hit in Ranji Trophy till date, 20 were by 17 players since the 2000-01 season. Only 10 of these 17 players have played for India. Out of these 10 players, two — Dinesh Mongia and Jadhav — haven’t made it to the Tests. Among the rest, Pujara easily has the best figures with an average of 49.22, eight centuries and 10 fifties.
While domestic stalwarts like Shiv Sunder Das (23 Tests), Jaffer (31 Tests) and Aakash Chopra (10 Tests) were given a long rope, fellow opener Abhinav Mukund faded away after playing five Tests. Getting a break, and a long run, also depends on how many are pushing for the slot in any given time.
Rohit Sharma, a fantastic ODI and T20 player, has gone on to play 21 Tests despite inconsistent shows in the longest format. It could happen only because of the support of the captain. Only now has Rohit starting to vindicate that faith with decent knocks.
This was one of the points touched upon by ODI captain MS Dhoni. “Unless you give them chance it would be very difficult to predict how good they will be at this level because I feel the difference between our domestic level and international level is quite big,” he said before the Dharamsala ODI.
Competition anyway is tougher in the IPL where a number of quality foreign players participate. Fine Ranji form paved the way for KL Rahul’s inclusion in the Test team in 2014 but a highly productive IPL this year gave him the confidence to improve drastically on overseas tours.
Wriddhiman Saha was always considered a technically correct wicket-keeper but it was during his IPL stint under Dhoni with Chennai Super Kings that he improved.
Despite the sheer number of runs scored in domestic cricket, there exists a huge gap between the quality of opponents and pitches in international level. And that degree of difficulty only goes up while playing away from home. That is the biggest reason why few players have replicated their domestic success in the international arena.