Searching for the highest honour
The Ranji Trophy begins on November 23 and Cricinfo previews the teams in the Elite Group: their prospects, the form guide and the men to watch out for. Three to set the ball rolling
Tamil Nadu have consistently fielded strong teams in the Ranji Trophy and yet they have won the competition only twice in the history of the tournament. WV Raman, the former Tamil Nadu and India batsman, is now their coach, and he was a member of the team that won in 1987-88, led them to the final in 1991-92 and was also in the mix when they reached the final in 1995-96. After reaching the finals in both 2003 and 2004, they were thwarted by Mumbai, and have since failed to make it to the knockout stage.
Under Raman, a shrewd thinker of the game and a clever motivator of men, there's every reason to believe that a change in fortunes is on the cards. Only the faithful - many of whom come to the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chepauk year after year to watch their team - will expect instant results.
"We've got a fair amount of strength in the medium-pace department. And the advantage is that we have a settled middle order," Raman told Cricinfo. "If we fall short anywhere it is in the spin department, and the fact that there has been a lot of chopping and changing in the opening combination. They need a bit of time to settle down."
That said, Tamil Nadu, who play all but two of their games at home in Chennai - their away games being against Delhi and in Rajkot against Saurashtra - should have no excuse to fail to qualify for the knockout stage of the competition.
What they did last season
Tamil Nadu won only one of their seven matches in the last season, and that was against Bengal when Hemang Badani made an invaluable 157 in the second innings, supported by Sridharan Sriram (96) after both teams had collapsed in the first innings. Crucially they lost two matches outright, to Mumbai and Maharashtra, and this hurt their chances badly, leaving them with only 11 points at the end of the league matches, and well behind Mumbai's 16. "The ability of players to raise their game when it comes to big matches is a key issue," said Raman. "Also the team as a whole needs to maintain focus for the eight-week period." (Click here for Tamil Nadu's batting and bowling stats last season.)
Men to watch
S Badrinath has been spoken about in hushed tones in Chennai circles for years now but was only pitchforked into the national mainstream last year. An outstanding fielder at point, or anywhere else in the circle, and a batsman who has grown from being a grafter to one who can express himself freely, Badri topped the Ranji averages in the last season for anyone who had played five games or more, racking up over 600 runs at just under 80 with an unbeaten double-hundred in the bag. Another key person to look out for in the forthcoming season will be Lakshmipathy Balaji - how soon, and how strongly he comes back to full potency remains to be seen. Then, there's always Badani. Although his chances of playing for India appear bleak, he is a vital member of the Tamil Nadu squad, and when he scores runs the team usually does well.
Haryana have never been a domestic heavyweight - they've only featured in two Ranji finals -but have produced Kapil Dev and two domestic stalwarts - Rajinder Goel, whose tally of wickets remains a record till today, and Amarjeet Kaypee, whose run-scoring ability is yet to be surpassed. They haven't thrown up any stars in the past decade but two current players are creating a buzz - Mahesh Rawat, the young wicketkeeper-batsman, and Joginder Sharma, the allrounder who has represented India. Amit Mishra, the talented legspinner, was talked about as a potential national player but has since faded away. There's a batting line-up capable of posting match-winning scores, but it's in the bowling department that Haryana lacks penetration.
What they did last season:
Haryana's 2005-06 campaign read one win, one loss, and four draws. Sitting third from the bottom in the points table, they were a far cry from the big two in their group - Baroda and UP. Mahesh Rawat and Sachin Rana scored the bulk of the team's runs, but only three batsmen made hundreds. The bowling was even more disappointing: Joginder topped the list with 34, followed by Rana with 23, but the next on the list was Mishra with 14. No back-up bowler left a mark, and to his credit Joginder turned in fine spells throughout the season. (Click here for Haryana's batting and bowling stats last season.)
Men to watch:
If pre-season form is a yardstick, Rawat and Joginder will be the men to carry Haryana. Rawat, who scored his maiden first-class hundred against Punjab last season, opened this year's Duleep Trophy season with two hundreds - 115 against Central Zone and an unbeaten 104 in the title triumph over Sri Lanka A - and a half-century against East. Joginder has been Haryana's most successful bowler over the past three years, and his batting has evolved significantly. With two successive hundreds and a ten-wicket haul at the start of the 2004-05 Ranji Trophy season, he won a place in India's one-day squad for the tour to Bangladesh, and played three ODIs. In this year's Duleep Trophy, he picked up hundreds against Central and East and a half-century in the final. Hopefully for Haryana, the buck won't stop with these two talents.
A powerhouse in the 1960s, Rajasthan has faced a steady decline since and never been able to relive the glory years. Things are slowly looking up, though, as a promotion to the Elite Group suggests. The biggest news has been that of the overseas imports, Vikram Solanki and Kabir Ali, from England. The Worcestershire cricketers will turn out for Rajasthan in the Super League of the Ranji Trophy as well as in the domestic one-day competition. .
The Lalit Modi-let Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) has seemingly changed the face of the state's cricket, first remodelling the Sawai Mansingh Stadium and then installing state-of-the-art facilities at the academy. Still, without a large talent pool, Rajasthan will need to play out of their skins in the Elite Group.
What they did last season:
Rajasthan made the jump up to the next level despite going down by an innings and 34 runs to Saurashtra in the division final. There were two outright wins, no losses and vital first-innings lead points in the league matches. Undoubtedly, Jadeja's presence had a huge impact on Rajasthan's season, both tactically and statistically. Barring Jadeja - who scored 684 runs at 97.71 - no batsman averaged more than 34.00 and there was just one other centurion, the former ODI batsman Gagan Khoda, whose stock has slipped over the years. How Rajasthan cope against more formidable opposition remains to be seen. (Click here for Rajasthan's batting and bowling stats last season.)
Men to watch:
Sanjay Gill is a senior right-arm medium-fast bowler who has been among the wickets for Rajasthan in the last few seasons, and if the side hopes to be incisive with the ball, Gill will be a key figure. He had a devastating spell against Orissa last season when he picked up career-best figures of 6 for 20 from 17 nagging overs and bowled them out for 94. Nikhil Doru, the wicketkeeper, and Rahul Kanwat are capable batsman and have bailed Rajasthan out of trouble more than once.