As India and the West Indies play a Test at the Kotla, another Ranji season has quietly kicked off. India’s premier domestic event lacks glamour and media glare but its context is compelling.
For hundreds of hopefuls, the 27-team Ranji Trophy is a stepping stone to the next level and the only path to the fast lane.
That is why young cricketers slog to learn skills and lift weights to punish their bodies to get into shape. The young cricketer of today understands the challenges and has a clear understanding of the rewards- be it a moment of fame, celebrity status, an elusive IPL contract or lucrative endorsement contracts.
While Ashok Menaria, Manish Pandey, Mandeep Singh could be the next big stars to hit the headlines, Ranji is a platform for players struggling to return to the mainstream, those who touched fame but then lost their way.
Last week, Rohit Sharma and Manoj Tewary scored big hundreds, Suresh Raina made a more emphatic statement by stroking a double but was upstaged by Ravindra Jadeja who smashed a triple hundred. Sourav Ganguly shifted gears to return from retirement and Harbhajan Singh, in Ranji after a gap, had an ordinary game against UP.
True stars are unassuming pros
But the true stars of Ranji are the unassuming professionals who spend a lifetime on the circuit doing the hard yards and turn up year after year to subject themselves to the grind. Prominent in this group are players such as Sanjay Bangar, Murali Kartik, S Sriram, Hemang Badani, Wasim Jaffer and the three outstanding seniors from Rajasthan — Aakash Chopra, Hrishikesh Kanitkar and R Parida.
None of them is likely to play for India yet they bring outstanding commitment and terrific attitude to domestic cricket. Driven by genuine love for cricket and a sense of challenge, these players compete with colleagues half their age.
Fortunately, Ranji nowadays is financially rewarding as match fees and prize money is more than decent.
Lately, the BCCI has also invested time and resources in the tournament by appointing match referees/umpire coaches and every ball is video recorded. Importantly, there is a growing feeling that Ranji matters and performances here are noticed.
Perhaps, it is time Test cricket receives similar attention. The Kotla match has sent out a strong signal that spectators will reject anything that lacks quality — the only buzz in the game centres round Sachin Tendulkar.
Amrit Mathur is CEO of Delhi Daredevils