Yet another Ranji season is at my door-step. It has been 13 years since I have been playing this championship. As I sit to write on Ranji Trophy, several thoughts come pouring into my mind. It is rightly said that the best moments can be cherished only in retrospect. I can still vividly remember the day when I first began my journey as a first class cricketer. It seems as if it happened just a few days back. Over the years, it has been a journey not only of great joys and learnings, but also of trials and tribulations which every cricketer has to go through to touch the pinnacle.
In fact, the domestic season is everything for an aspiring cricketer. While a good season would see him knocking the doors of Team India and getting an IPL deal, a bad one can ruin his chances forever. Hence the endeavour during the off-season is not to leave any stone unturned with regards to the preparation. There is an old adage that says ‘it’s better to prevent and prepare than repent and repair.’
Till the advent of the IPL, Ranji trophy was the only platform available to the Indian cricketers to showcase their talent. A batsman would try to achieve the elusive four figure mark of a 1000-run and a bowler would bowl his heart out to score his half-century of wickets. Both are equally difficult tasks but if you can achieve it, you stand a good chance of making it into the Indian Team.
We have several examples in our hands where just one brilliant season opened up the doors of the national cricket team for younger players, who were unknown to the cricketing fraternity till then. Take a look at Abhimanyu Mithun; no one knew him before the previous Ranji season. But he is into the Indian cricket team, riding on the success of a superb performance of a single season.
When we talk about Ranji trophy, one can’t end the discussion without mentioning the invincible Mumbai team. They have won this championship a record number of 38 times. Mumbai have always been a powerhouse of Indian cricket. Some fine cricketers including Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar are the products of the great cricketing culture that Mumbai boast of. They have a strong work ethics and an even stronger legacy to reach the summit.
This time, too, Mumbai are the favourites to clinch Ranji Trophy. Their biggest advantage is that the core unit has been the same for quite some time that helps them to win not only tight matches but also crucial phases. In addition to that, the tracks in Mumbai, both at Wankhede and CCI, have produced results and hence have helped them to garner crucial points which also allow them to concede a few points here and there, a luxury no other team enjoys.
Among the other teams, Uttar Pradesh have been doing consistently well while Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have emerged as stronger units. Like always, Delhi too would be one of the contenders for the post.
Karnataka have always been a talented unit, but if they lack anything it is the competitive spirit. Rahul Dravid’s presence made the difference last season where they excelled in all three departments. But their problem area could be the spin department once Sunil Joshi calls it a day.
UP are another extremely talented unit which plays together as a team. Like Mumbai they have more or less the same team for quite some time. Their batting might be a little iffy at times but have the bowling to make up for it. Having two good spinners in Piyush Chawla and Praveen Gupta along with four quality seam bowlers in Praveen Kumar, Sudeep Tyagi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and RP Singh, UP form a deadly bowling combo that help them win games on almost all surfaces.
The tag of perennial underachievers got stuck with my former team Delhi for the longest time. Another team which boast of great talent and fair amount of representation in the Indian team, Delhi failed to make ripples at the domestic level regularly. But everything changed in 2007-08 season when we won the Ranji trophy and also qualified for the semis in the last season.
Apart from these teams, it’s really difficult for a dark horse to win the Ranji trophy. There might be a few unknown teams who’d do well but it’s doubtful that anyone of them would go the distance. But still if I have to put my money on a dark horse, I’d have a closer look at all the squads and choose the team with enough firepower in the bowling department to take 20 wickets on a regular basis.
Every Ranji season gives birth to some new and exciting talents for India. So, besides the obvious names, I’d be looking out for Delhi’s Vikas Mishra, Mumbai’s Harmeet Singh and other young spinners to come to the fore. It would be great if some of these young spinners make it big this season.
A lot of people, including my friends in media, keep asking me the reasons behind my decision to leave Delhi for Rajasthan this season. Believe me, there is no ill-feeling towards anyone. I still cherish the days I played for Delhi. In fact, it is for Delhi that I realized my dreams of seeing my name in the list of Team Indian.
But like in life, in sports too, one needs to find new challenges to keep himself motivated. It’s the only reason I decided to take the plunge. Staying at Delhi for yet another season would have been an easier option but moving out would take me out of my comfort zone and that’s what I wanted this season.
If playing for India is all about making lots and lots of runs, how does it matter if the runs were scored for Delhi, Rajasthan or any other state?
(Aakash Chopra opened for India in 10 Tests, forming a potent all-Delhi combination with Virender Sehwag during India`s tour of Australia in 2003-04. He also made his mark as India`s last exceptional close-in fielder. He has also played over 130 first class matches. He writes columns for leading newspapers and websites. He also penned a book `Beyond the Blues`. Aakash`s Twitter feed is here http://twitter.com/cricketaakash)
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