India’s international stars like Ravichandran Ashwin, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ishant Sharma and others will also be in action in the three-month-long tournament.
New Delhi: India’s premier domestic competition, Ranji Trophy, enters its 85th year this season with a total of 37 teams participating in it. Season 17 kick-starts this Thursday at different venues across the country with the spotlight on the participation of nine new teams, including Sikkim, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.
India’s international stars like Ravichandran Ashwin, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ishant Sharma and others will also be in action in the three-month-long tournament. Performances of the spinners — Mihir Hirwani (Madhya Pradesh), Siddharth Desai (Gujarat), Anukul Roy (Jharkhand), Jayant Yadav (Haryana), Shahbaz Nadeem (Jharkhand) are surely to be kept an eye on but whether MS Dhoni will play a part in the Jharkhand team still remains a question.
Nine new teams — Bihar, Pondicherry, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and Nagaland — will compete against each other in the plate group but will mostly rely on their outstation players to secure important points. The 'seven sisters' had given a good account of themselves in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, but four-day cricket will be a tougher challenge.
Group of death
Out of the three groups, Group A comprising Mumbai, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Saurashtra, Railways, Chattisgarh, Vidarbha and Gujarat seem to be the toughest with defending champion Vidarbha led by Faiz Fazal, domestic giants Mumbai and Karnataka and an unpredictable Saurashtra forming the core of the 2018-19 season.
Rajneesh Gurbani, who claimed 39 wickets in six games last season, will be a notable miss. Forty-one-time Ranji champions Mumbai remain firm favourites. Under the leadership of Shreyas Iyer and tutelage of coach Vinayak Samant, they will aim for a historic 42nd title. However, the services of Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Prithvi Shaw and Shardul Thakur will be missed in several matches.
Although Mumbai has had a fabled history but they have not been up to the mark in the past few seasons. Tamil Nadu will be hoping to finally live up to expectations with Murali Vijay, Ashwin, Karthik, Washington Sundar, and Vijay Shankar in their ranks. Karnataka is another team which will be a tough competitor with their experienced and young players. Saurashtra and Bihar, who return to domestic cricket after 18 years, are expected to spring a surprise.
The league stage matches started from November 1 and four games will be played respectively on December 6, 14, 22 and 30. The last league stage match will be held on January 7. The quarter-finals will start on January 15. The top five teams from Group A and B will qualify for the quarter-finals and two more will make it from Group C (comprising 10 teams) and the team that finishes on top in the Plate group will join them.
The two semi-finals are scheduled from January 24 to 28. The final will be held on February 2. All the matches will begin at 9.30 am.
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Last Updated Nov 1, 2018, 5:28 PM IST