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Is the BCCI ignoring in form Ranji players?

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India_Test_Ranji_players_BCCI_selectors_CricketThere was a sense of system for any young individual who dared to dream and play for India. An impressive performance in coaching camps would lead to the foray into group-age cricket. As the competition grew tougher, the skills needed to be polished before the Under-19 level was attained. Under-19 would inevitably lead to Ranji Trophy outings, which would translate into India A tours. Then, if the continued effort was productively persisted with, a call-up to the national team would not be distant. The lifelong dream of playing for India would finally bear fruit.

However, as the years have rolled by, and with the Indian team almost always fielding the same set of players, the domestic circuit in India has undergone massive changes. Players arrive and players leave their marks, season after season, but without much progress. Their careers remain stagnant till eventually their prime playing years have been left far behind.

A case in point is the successful Vidarbha outfit that won the Ranji Trophy earlier this year. Rajneesh Gurbani, with his accurate seam and swing bowling, Sanjay Ramaswamy with his mature head and Aditya Sarwate with a gritty 79 in the final hogged the limelight, as did Akshay Wadkar’s maiden First Class hundred in the final.

A few weeks before the next season of the Ranji Trophy begins, these cricketers have hardly been able to create ripples. Though Gurbani is still in the news due to his 4/117 in England and 4/92 in South Africa, it can be safe to say that a few seasons hence, he too will be a player scalping wickets in obscurity.

The indifferent behaviour towards Ranji performers is not new. Way back in 2004/05, Harvinder Singh, Amit Pagnis, JP Yadav and Yashpal Singh pulled together to help Railways bag an unexpected title. Pagnis, who had scored the second highest runs in that season (718 with an average of 51.28), and Yashpal (605 runs at 86.42) were the corner stones on the batting front. Yet once the initial euphoria of the win ended, the duo was relegated to the back burners.

Yadav made 584 runs at an average of more than 40 and impressed with the ball as well, picking up 36 wickets in 9 matches to end the season as the third highest wicket taker. At a time when the national team needed a seam bowling all-rounder, Yadav could have possibly been the answer. But by overlooking his efforts, the player failed to maximize his potential. Though he did play 12 ODIs, it seemed too few.

Meanwhile, players like Suresh Raina, Praveen Kumar, Piyush Chawla, Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan, from more illustrious Ranji sides, were making a mark. This forced one to ponder the possible bias that existed against cricketers from teams that did not have a rich history.

Cut to 2011/12, when Rajasthan won their second successive Ranji title, aided by youngsters like Aniket Choudhary, Pankaj Singh and Robin Bist. Bist was the only player in 2011/12 to score more than 1,000 runs in Ranji cricket, which he did at an average of 86.16. Though the future looked bright for him, the fact that his name fails to ring a bell speaks of the unfortunate turn his career took.

Pankaj, with more than 400 First-class wickets to his name, played just two Tests for India in England in 2014 and can consider himself extremely unlucky as edges off his bowling whizzed past the fielders. But with just 2 wickets to his name, his bowling prowess was overlooked.

Though 2016/17 winners Gujarat did have Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya and Axar Patel in their ranks, the three have risen courtesy impressive outings in the Indian Premier League and are hardly known for their exploits in Ranji cricket. Players like Priyank Panchal and Rush Kalaria, major architects in Gujarat’s triumph, were unable to set the T20 league ablaze. It is no surprise that their names barely raise eyebrows.

Shift to India A, and the story pans out on similar lines. Coached by Rahul Dravid, the team is packed with consistent performers. Prithvi Shaw, who is not yet 19, has an average of 60.78 in First-class cricket. His skills are not just limited to playing in familiar conditions where the balls keep low and slow. But the lack of opportunities makes the efforts of the talent pool fruitless.

Rishabh Pant scored at 61* against England Lions and made his debut in the third Test match between England and India, but it is not unbelievable to state that if Wriddhiman Saha had been fit, Pant’s debut would have been pushed back, like it has been in the ODIs due to the towering presence of MS Dhoni, who is more than past his prime.

In the last 5 years (since 20 August 2013), just 13 Test players have made their debut for India, which is much fewer than Australia (18 debutants), South Africa (18) and England (32). Though this would have been impressive if the players playing for India were ruling the roost, the worrying factor is that the Virat Kohli-led team is hesitant to try out younger players. Though the Delhiite likes chopping and changing his team before every Test, new entrants are rarely introduced into the side.

Hence, the opener’s slots currently look like they’ll go to KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan, though Shaw could be considered a possible replacement. Cheteshwar Pujara holds the number three slot even though his overseas record hardly impresses. Even with Mohammad Shami’s average show in Tests, he seems to hold on to his place.

While extended long runs are essential, the days of playing lacklustre and out of form athletes even when healthier replacements are knocking at the door is baffling. The Indian selectors could do well to zing up the Test team with exciting prospects.

 

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