Ahmedabad: The ‘backbone’ of Indian cricket, the Ranji Trophy, will make a long-awaited return after two years amid the easing COVID-19 situation in the country, giving numerous domestic cricketers the chance to make a name for themselves in red ball cricket while giving veterans like Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara one last chance to revive their testing career.
A third wave of COVID-19 had threatened the main domestic event for the second year in a row, but the decline in infections allowed the BCCI to hold the event with 38 teams, a huge logistical task in the new standard of biosafe environments.
All eyes will be on the opening match between defending champion Saurashtra and record 41-time champions Mumbai here with Rahane and Pujara on either side, aiming for the big scores that left them at the test level for a while.
Both veterans have been working hard in the nets and their coaches feel a big blow right around the corner. Rahane and Pujara will have to make an immediate impact with the Test squad of Sri Lanka series expected to be announced soon.
Nine bio-bubbles have been created in nine locations across the country and the players have been quarantined for five days, leaving them with only two days of training before the first round, which starts on Thursday.
However, the players are not in the mood to complain. They’re just happy to finally be able to test themselves in the game’s toughest form after two seasons of white-ball cricket.
The batters had almost forgotten the art of letting the ball go and the bowlers the ruthlessness of long spells. Both divisions are up for the challenge, but their bodies may need more time to get used to the harsh grind of red ball cricket.
“It’s great that cricket is starting with red balls. Players have suffered and lost a lot in the past two years, both financially and in terms of skills. They are all looking forward to the challenge,” said Delhi coach Raj Kumar Sharma after the first training session of the team on Monday, echoing the views of all teams.
It will also be the shortest first-class season for most teams, with the sides only getting three league games, impacting their game costs and leaving them little room for error.
Eight groups of four teams each have been formed at the elite level while six teams will battle it out in the plate group. The knockouts, with the exception of the only pre-quarter final, will be held in the post IPL stage from May 30.
It will also be a high-pressure match as it will potentially determine the group’s lone quarter-finalist.
The national selectors finally get to see the up-and-coming talent in action.
Only one India A tour has taken place in the last 24 months, the selectors had to refer to performances where no first-class cricket was played in the country.
The focus will also be on fringe Indian players, including Priyank Panchal, Abhimanyu Easwaran and Hanuma Vihari, who were controversially dropped for the home series against New Zealand before making the team for the South Africa away series.
Among the Indian U-19 stars, skipper Yash Dhull and Raj Angad Bawa are expected to make their first-class debuts shortly after securing IPL contracts. Dhull will play in Guwahati for Delhi against Tamil Nadu.
Teams have been advised to keep two COVID-19 reserves in the squad. There is a good chance of a COVID outbreak mid-game, but the game will go ahead provided a team has at least nine fit players.
Both teams will get a run each if the first innings are not completed.
The games are played in Rajkot, Cuttack, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Delhi, Haryana, Guwahati and Kolkata.
First round matches:
Karnataka vs Railways, Elite Group C (Chennai).
Hyderabad vs Chandigarh, Elite Group B (Bhubaneswar)
Bengal vs Baroda, Elite Group B (Cuttack)
Kerala vs Meghalaya, Elite Group A (Rajkot)
Gujarat vs Madhya Pradesh, Elite Group A (Rajkot)
Manipur vs Arunachal Pradesh, Plate (Kolkata)
Jammu and Kashmir vs Puducherry, Elite Group C (Chennai)
Saurashtra vs Mumbai, Elite Group D (Ahmedabad)
Odisha vs Goa, Elite Group D (Ahmedabad)
Nagaland vs Sikkim, Plate (Kolkata)
Bihar vs Mizoram, Plate (Kolkata)
Jharkhand vs Chhattisgarh, Elite Group H (Guwahati)
Delhi vs Tamil Nadu, Elite Group H (Guwahati)
Maharashtra vs Assam, Elite Group G (Rohtak)
Vidarbha vs Uttar Pradesh, Elite Group G (Gurugram)
Haryana vs Tripura, Elite Group F (Delhi)
Punjab vs Himachal Pradesh, Elite Group F (Delhi)
Services vs Uttarakhand, Elite Group E (Thiruvananthapuram)
Andhra vs Rajasthan, Elite Group E (Thiruvananthapuram)
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