India’s premier domestic red-ball tournament began last week. The Ranji Trophy season is the pinnacle of first-class cricket in India and the yardstick for selectors to build India’s bench strength for the Test squad. With the tournament returning to the home-away format after a failed experiment with neutral venues last season, 24 teams began their campaign around the country and three out of the 12 matches resulted in outright wins, with a few closely fought drawn matches. The first round of matches brought out quite a few individual performances of note as well and not just from the big names (and there were plenty of them in action).
Here’s a look at the highlights of round one.
Prashant Chopra’s marathon knock
338 off 363 balls. That’s quite an outstanding knock, irrespective of the conditions one plays in. Himachal Pradesh’s Prashant Chopra was the headline-maker from the first round of matches. Reaching his triple century – the first of this Ranji season – on his 25th birthday would have made the feat even more special for the youngster. With 271 runs on day one, Chopra, had scored the maximum runs in a day in Ranji Trophy since Bhausaheb Nimbalkar’s 277 back in 1948-’49.
Chopra has also been picked in the India A squad for matches against New Zealand and would miss the team’s next league game but a record score on the home turf would only end up giving him more confidence. Watch out for this kid.
Yusuf Pathan’s twin centuries
While one youngster made news, a veteran pulled off a pretty impressive feat too. The elder of the Pathan brothers made centuries in both innings for Baroda against Madhya Pradesh, but unfortunately it was not enough to prevent his side from losing. With his team in dire straits at 54/4, going up against MP’s 551 in the first innings, Yusuf, with his brother and captain Irfan for company, made a crucial 111 in 125 balls. The situation was even worse following on, with his team tottering at 68/6. It was the KKR man’s 136 that made a second innings for MP possible. Out of the 620 total runs Baroda scored, Yusuf accounted for 40%. There’s only so much a man can do.
Ashwin’s return and other stars in action
“First-class cricket is very important and honestly I don’t like players who bunk it. I have very little time for them. Players missing first-class cricket is a bad omen for Indian cricket. When your international players start bunking domestic cricket is a bad omen for the future.”
That was Bishan Singh’s Bedi unsurprisingly honest take on some star players skipping the opening round matches. So he would have been happy to see someone like R Ashwin turning up for Tamil Nadu for the first time in five seasons. He has not been a part of the Indian squad since the Test series in Sri Lanka and in his own words he’s not too worried about his place in the limited-overs scheme of things. Though his 6/153 in 49.4 overs he bowled at Chepauk is not the greatest of returns, the fact that he is ready to grind out in the domestic circuit is a good sign.
Alongside him, Murali Vijay also made a long-awaited return to action from injury and survived a brief scare in the second innings when he had to retire hurt due to an ankle sprain. Bu he came back to make a half century.
Cheteshwar Pujara, without troubling the scoring chart too much, led Saurashtra to an outright win. Mohammed Shami had an ordinary outing for Bengal in his return to the domestic tournament after five years as well with figures of 38-8-123-2, while Wridhhiman Saha made a typically usefully half century lower down the order.
Jalaj Saxena’s all-round show
Indore boy Saxena began his second season Kerala in fine style with a haul of six for 50 in 29 overs on day one against Jharkand, following that up with a five-wicket haul in the second innings as Kerala turned out to be one of three outright winners in the opening round. After restricting Jharkand to 209 in the first innings, Saxena’s 148-ball 55 batting at No 7 was pivotal in his side getting a first-innings lead. And then in the second innings, his 5/27 was the top performance. The all-rounder sits on top of the bowlers charts now.
The old warhorses Gambhir and Ishant do well for Delhi
Captain Ishant Sharma. Now that’s something new. The Indian pacer was leading his Ranji Trophy side for the first time and it started in pretty fine fashion as he took a five-wicket haul in the first innings against Assam. He went wicket-less in the second innings, after Gautam Gambhir, the former captain, decided to step up with the bat, scoring a patient first-innings century – his 40th ton in first-class cricket.
The match ended in a draw under controversial circumstances, with Assam slowing down proceedings to a snail’s pace in the final hour to deny Delhi an outright win. But it was a good start to the season for two eternal men in Indian cricket as they hope to continue figuring in the selectors’ plans for the Indian Test squad.
Brilliant defence by Railways
The most-exciting match of the first round had to be the contest between Railways and Uttar Pradesh in Lucknow. Suresh Raina, fresh from failing the ‘Yo-Yo’ test, had a match to forget with his state as he couldn’t help his side overhaul a fourth-innings target of 92. Railways bowlers put in a magnificent performance, led by Avinash Yadav’s four-wicket haul.
“Both our coaches had a lot of belief in me, as well as the manager,” Avinash told ESPNCricinfo. “That helped my confidence. And when the captain showed he had faith when he threw me the ball, I wanted to seize the opportunity, especially against UP as we have very tight matches whenever we have played them,” the 31-year-old left arm spinner added.
The fact that this was the second lowest fourth-innings score successfully defended in the history of Ranji Trophy tells you all you need to know about how special this was.
The leaderboard after round one
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