Delhi's bowler Ishant Sharma in action during a Ranji Trophy cricket match against Vidarbha.(PTI) PREMIUM
Delhi's bowler Ishant Sharma in action during a Ranji Trophy cricket match against Vidarbha.(PTI)

Is the Ranji route still good to get green light for India?

  • The most successful domestic coach in recent years gave the example to highlight the sway IPL holds over Ranji Trophy, the bread and butter of every domestic cricket till the T20 league was launched in 2008.
By Sanjjeev K Samyal, Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAY 21, 2021 08:14 AM IST

During Mumbai’s Jharkhand Ranji Trophy quarter-final in February 2016, coach Chandrakant Pandit was at his wit’s end trying to get players to focus on the game. A strict disciplinarian, he was unhappy his players didn’t show the single-mindedness he demanded despite it being a knockout game.

The reason was what brings Indian cricket to a standstill year after year: IPL auction midway through the game. Pandit had seen the distraction even in the lead up to the tie.

“I was so stressed. There was a TV in one of the rooms, and everyone was looking that side... they would take a round to get an update on the auction. What to do, how to control?” says Pandit, talking about the game played at Mysore.

“If there is an auction after four days, how do you get them on track? They won’t talk about in front of you, but they keep discussing among themselves.

“Because they were afraid of me, there was at least some control, but I don’t how the other coaches cope with such a situation. The players are not really bothered about the job at on hand,” says the former Mumbai and India keeper-batsman.

The most successful domestic coach in recent years gave the example to highlight the sway IPL holds over Ranji Trophy, the bread and butter of every domestic cricket till the T20 league was launched in 2008.

It’s not only about the big bucks IPL brings. Given the attention the league draws, it has become the better platform even for national selection.

In such an existence, it gives the exasperated coach some satisfaction that first-class cricket has led to the selection of two newcomers, though only among the four standby members of the India squad to tour England, for the World Test Championship final against New Zealand followed by a five-Test bilateral series.

Opener Abhimanyu Easwaran, 25, the Bengal Ranji Trophy opener and skipper, has built his name over many seasons while left-arm pacer Arzan Nagwaswalla, 23, just three first-class seasons old, will have a specific task. Easwaran was also a standby during the home Test series against England before IPL—sending a message that domestic showing, especially in red-ball games, does matter. Some coaches even called up to congratulate the national selectors.

The Dehradun-born Easwaran’s father was so passionate about the game, he went and built a proper ground near Uttarakhad’s capital for his son then turned it into an academy. With his home state getting Ranji status much later, Easwaran shifted, making his Ranji debut for Bengal in 2013. His first-class numbers are solid (64 matches, 4,401 runs, highest 233, 43.57 avg, 13 100s). In the 2018-19 Ranji season, he amassed 861 runs at an average of 95.66, but the last season before the Covid disruption saw just 258 runs come at 17.20. The selectors seem confident it is a blip.

Arzan, the Surat-born left-arm pacer, has risen through Gujarat’s age-group cricket. He made his Ranji debut in 2018-19, taking 62 first-class wickets at an average of 25.33. He can swing the ball and come on first change, but is the go-to man for bouncers in the Gujarat team. His improving limited-overs performances this season saw Mumbai Indians call him up as a net bowler for IPL 2021. But his short-pitched bowling has brought him into the India mix, to help batsmen prepare for NZ pacer Neil Wagner’s bouncer tactics ahead of the World Test Championship final at Southampton.

“Only a couple of batsmen like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma are all-format players. It is not easy for other players to change gears for all the three formats. Some batsmen’s temperament is ideal for shorter formats. They are strokemakers who love to play shots. For each format you have specialists now,” points out former India pacer Karsan Ghavri, who coached Saurashtra to the last Ranji title, in 2019-20.

IPL is a massive platform, aired on multiple channels by the broadcaster with the game’s biggest experts as commentators. When someone like Brian Lara talks about a player, everyone sits up and takes notice. From R Ashwin to T Natarajan and Washington Sundar last season, players have used it as the launch pad for international cricket. Even David Warner used IPL as the springboard to international stardom.

Abhimanyu though is yet to play IPL. He went unsold in the last auction.

Arzan told how red-ball cricket has helped him grow. “The grind in domestic cricket has helped me understand the importance of routine,” how to practice, bowl during practice, and how to focus on the process without thinking about the result. “It is important to be patient. There is no point comparing myself with anyone and wondering why someone else is selected and not me.”

Though IPL pushes players to adapt, especially to the demand it makes on power-hitting and smart bowling, the roles are unique in the longer format too. Arzan points to the advise from Gujarat skipper Parthiv Patel. “He used to tell me “you must know your role with the ball,” be it coming in as third pacer or taking the new ball. He always highlighted the importance of planning and told us to believe in ourselves while executing plans.”

Pandit knows such keen students are not easy to find.

“There have been instances when we give a pep talk to players and they come back saying “kya fayda hai sir, IPL mein karenge yah one-day mein karenge, they will only get a chance (what’s the use, players who do well in one-day or IPL only will get a chance)”. There was a situation when players who did well in T20 cricket got selected even for Tests. That was a little disappointing for other players,” says Pandit.

“I remember when I was in Vidarbha players like (skipper) Faiz Fazal (8,404 runs, 125 FC games) and off-spinner Akshay Wakhare (279 wickets, 83 FC games) were doing well, but felt the performances were not being considered.

“The selection committee giving importance to players not involved in IPL will act as motivation. (It will help) coaches to motivate players.

Pandit adds: “I have seen some players, if they are not picked for the shorter version they will ask “Sir, why was I not picked?” If they are not in the Ranji squad, they are not bothered.

“Every player doesn’t get the opportunity to play IPL, get that kind of exposure. So, selecting players on the basis of Ranji is important.”

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