With three rounds of Ranji Trophy completed, the season seems to be playing out no different from the previous years. Senior pros think the players are more focussed and competitive but the overall quality of play shows no improvement. With 27 teams in the fray, it is difficult to separate the mediocre from the meritorious.
This is reflected in performance as matches are dominated by experienced batsmen, who are exposed to a higher level of cricket. Manoj Tiwary, Suresh Raina, Parthiv Patel, Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma and Abhishek Nayar don't usually struggle at this level. On placid pitches and against ordinary attacks, they switch on and score big. Virat Kohli, however, has missed out because he is sitting on the India team bench.
Karnataka's Manish Pandey and Rajasthan's Ashok Menaria, having scored impressive double hundreds, are this season's hot new stars. Both are products of post-IPL Indian cricket - fearless, aggressive, not ones to dawdle at the crease. They are students of Virender Sehwag's school of cricket where the curriculum mandates that batsmen must score runs as fast as possible.
Whether, and when, the likes of Pandey and Menaria step up to the next level is difficult to tell. Others are ahead of them to make it to the India team and there is also the question of passing the ultimate quality control test --- of demonstrating the ability to handle pace and the moving ball. It is one thing to hit through the line or whack a spinner out of the ground, quite another to play on lively tracks and handle bowling that is consistently threatening.
Surprisingly, this Ranji season, bowling resources are worryingly barren. Off-spinners are almost extinct and Harbhajan Singh (400 Test wickets, the fourth-most successful spinner in cricket history after Muralitharan, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble) has taken just two wickets in three games. With batsmen easily putting away balls turning into them, left-arm spinners are the first choice when it comes to picking spinning options in the playing eleven.
Nothing much has changed for the fast bowlers who continue to be defeated by the conditions and opposing batsmen. Pankaj Singh, Manpreet Gony, Ashok Dinda, Jaidev Unadkat, A Mithun, L Balaji, RP Singh and Vinay Kumar have had their moments but in the context of Ranji and dead tracks, they exist only to take the shine off the ball and suffer punishment.
The author is CEO of Delhi Daredevils.