Ranji Trophy 2013-14 October 24, 2013

Saurashtra aim to go one better

ESPNcricinfo staff

Saurashtra: Minus key players

By Alagappan Muthu

Where they finished last time

Big Picture
Saurashtra collared the spotlight last year as they finished among the top two teams in the tournament, and gave the national side three promising talents in Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja and Jaydev Unadkat. This season, though, Saurashtra must cope with depleted resources - in addition to Pujara and Jadeja expected to be away on national duty, Shitanshu Kotak will bring his 20-year first-class career to a close after the opener against Rajasthan on October 27.

"We are looking to work on our consistency," Sheldon Jackson, their second-highest scorer from 2012-13, said. "We want to be in the top-four or five teams and if we continue playing good cricket, we can surely make that happen. We've had extended camps this season, played a KSCA tournament in Bangalore, and then we had a training camp as well. So preparations have been very good."

Saurashtra's batting was quite solid, accounting for four of the top six individual scores. Though Jadeja and Pujara were responsible for three of them - all triple centuries - Jackson believes the team has other reserves to bank on. "We beat big teams like Karnataka in the quarter-final, then we won the semi-final against Punjab without Cheteshwar and Ravindra."

Unadkat and Siddharth Trivedi took on the mantle in that game, reducing Punjab from 252 for 3 to 272 for 8. However, Trivedi's absence, banned for a year for failing to report advances made by bookies during the IPL, could prove a big blow.

As will the departure of Kotak. "He was the backbone of Saurashtra's batting for 20 years," Jackson said. "You give him wet wickets, a turner, he has always been there, fighting it out for us."

Players to watch
Aarpit Vasavada, 24, chose an opportune setting for his highest first-class score - an unbeaten 152 to beat Karnataka in the quarter-final - and Saurashtra will hope his performance from last season (599 runs in nine matches) is only the beginning.

Click here for the full squad.


Rajasthan: High to low to high again?

By Devashish Fuloria

Where they finished
After two Ranji titles in two years, Rajasthan failed to win a single match in the 2012-13 season and finished eighth in Group A, avoiding relegation by just one point.

Big Picture
Rajasthan's two title wins had been built on strong batting performances, with Vineet Saxena and Robin Bist leading the way. Saxena continued in similar vein last year, but Bist's lack of form hurt the team's batting. Another area they lacked in was the spin department, with most of their wickets coming through their trio of pacers - Pankaj Singh, Rituraj Singh and Aniket Choudhary.

This year, the team has roped in former Rajasthan fast bowler Pradeep Sunderam as the head coach and have signed up Mumbai stalwart Ramesh Powar to boost their spin department. Sunderam, who has previously been a bowling coach at the Mumbai Cricket Association Academy, has said that he was working on the mental side of things with the team, with fast bowling coach Meyrick Pringle and captain Hrishikesh Kanitkar already at the helm.

"This year, a camp couldn't be organised because the players were playing different matches" Kanitkar said. "Robin Bist and Ashok Menaria, both are working hard on their batting. Robin played the Duleep Trophy and Menaria played for India A. They are both in good touch. [Seamer] Deepak Chahar was bowling well, but he has an injury on his thumb and will likely come after the second game."

Powar, 35, will likely take the role of the mentor of the young spin attack this year and with the coach confident of Bist's form ahead of the season, Rajasthan are likely to target a top-three finish in the group. It's not an easy group though.

Key players
Vineet Saxena scores his run at a slow pace, but he was the one who was scoring all the runs for the team last season. He provides the stability for others to score around him and will again be expected to deliver in the same role. Pankaj Singh was team's highest wicket-taker last season, with 29 wickets. He was also vocal about his desire to make the national side. With India's bowling stocks being a perennial worry, a good season here could be important for the 28-year-old's career revival. Kanitkar also backed Menaria, Bist and Choudhary to come good this season.

Click here for the full squad.


Railways: Seeking to beat the odds

By Abhishek Purohit

Where they finished
Railways finished fifth out of nine teams in Group A, only two points behind second and third-placed Saurashtra and Mumbai, both of whom qualified for the knockouts with 23 points. Railways didn't lose a single game, but they conceded the first-innings lead in four of their first five matches, all drawn. They beat Rajasthan and Bengal comfortably but, in between, ceded the lead to Hyderabad, sealing another competitive but unsuccessful season.

Big Picture
As always, the challenge for a departmental side such as Railways, hamstrung by scarce funds, is to try and compete with state teams, who have access to much better facilities and other resources. Even as their first-round opponents Madhya Pradesh toured South Africa to prepare, Railways' first priority was to find a venue to host their 'home' matches.

Their ground, the Karnail Singh Stadium in Delhi, was banned for a season last year for dishing out a poor pitch against Saurashtra in December 2011. Railways were forced to shift base all the way to the East Coast Railway Sports Association ground in Bhubaneswar. The Karnail Singh turf has been relaid since, but the ground is still not ready to host games.

Railways coach, and India A fielding coach, Abhay Sharma is "thankful" to the Railway Sports Promotion Board for hiring the Jamia Millia Islamia University Ground in Delhi, where his side will now play their home matches. As far as practice goes, Railways have been using a school academy ground.

Abhay is honest in appraising his team's chances. "We are a young side," he said. "We don't have a home ground. We don't have practice facilities. There is not much support. Things are really tight. We will try our best but we also have to be realistic."

Having secured a ground is only the first hurdle cleared. Murali Kartik, the veteran left-arm spinner, will lead the side this season but will miss the opener against MP in Indore, having been involved in a road accident recently.

Also, Railways will get the first taste of life without Sanjay Bangar, one of the foremost allrounders of all time in Indian domestic cricket, who retired at the end of last season. Apart from his 8349 first-class runs and 300 wickets, Railways will also miss a leader, a mentor and a workhorse bowler. "There is no replacement for Sanjay," Abhay said of his former team-mate. "Great cricketer, great human being. I'll be missing him for sure."

Key players
Along with the experience of Kartik, Railways are banking on Karn Sharma, the 26-year-old legspinning allrounder. Karn impressed with his controlled legbreaks in the IPL for Sunrisers Hyderabad and has a steadily improving first-class record. "He will be ready very soon for a higher grade of cricket," Abhay said. "We have been working on him for five years. He is a complete allrounder and also a brilliant fielder." Batting has been a worry for Railways, and men such as vice-captain Shivakant Shukla, wicketkeeper Mahesh Rawat and opener Amit Paunikar will have to come good.

Click here for the full squad.


Madhya Pradesh: Will South Africa experience pay dividends?

By Rachna Shetty

Where they finished
Sixth in Group A

Big Picture
The closest Madhya Pradesh came to winning the Ranji Trophy was in 1998-99 when they finished runners-up to Karnataka. They came within an inch of the knockouts last year, when they boldly chose to chase down a target of 311 against Mumbai in their penultimate group match. They fell seven runs short. Mumbai made the most of those points and went on to win their 40th Ranji title. MP finished in the lower half of the table, another middling result for the team trying.

This year, MP are placed in Group B alongside last year's finalists, Saurashtra, semi-finalists Services and former Ranji champions in Uttar Pradesh, Railways, Rajasthan, Baroda and Tamil Nadu. It's a tough group and MP chose to prepare for this season by sending their senior team to South Africa for a tour comprising one-dayers and four-day games. Although they got to play just four matches due to weather constraints, the overseas experience, according to coach Mukesh Sahani, is slowly become a fixture in MP's routine.

"Last year we toured Sri Lanka for a short tour and this time it was South Africa," Sahani said. "Such tours have become an important part of our preparation, as it gives young players exposure in different environments. Although two of the matches were washed out, our players had a chance to play against Graeme Smith and Justin Kemp."

This year's squad features three first-timers: 19-year-old batsman Shubham Sharma, right-arm pacer Nikhil Sawke and batting allrounder Salman Baig. While Shubham and Sawke are yet to make their debut for Madhya Pradesh, Baig, who also bowls medium-pace, was a part of the T20 squad and played four games for MP in the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy earlier this year.

Players to watch
Their results may not have been consistent, but MP had star performers. Pacer Ishwar Pandey finished as the tournament's highest wicket-taker last year, with 48 wickets from 15 innings at an average of 21.06. He will lead the MP attack once again. The batting rests on Jalaj Saxena and captain Devendra Bundela, and Udit Birla and Naman Ojha would also like to shed the 'underachievers' tag. Batsman Mohnish Mishra, who was banned for a year by the BCCI following a TV channel's sting operation into alleged corruption in domestic cricket, is back this season.

Click here for the full squad.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 26, 2013, 13:19 GMT

    Need to give more chances to younger players rather than some of veterans who are well over 35.. Some U-19,U-23 players need to play more longer format in order to get basics...Want to see some really good fast bowlers and medium pacer all-rounders..

  • binu on October 25, 2013, 15:09 GMT

    Eagerly waiting to see the matches of KERALA and Jarkhand Kerala his my home state and want to see how Sanju and Sandeep Warrior is going to perform. Want to see how Rahul Shukla and Varun Aron paring as fastest new ball pairs of Jarkhand and may be India

  • Dummy4 on October 25, 2013, 11:58 GMT

    Looking forward for this years Ranji season and have high hopes from Cricinfo that you would give us live updates like you did throughout the last Ranji season.

  • AZEEM on October 25, 2013, 10:41 GMT

    @manR it can be balaced by giving all states 3 teams

  • Ravinder on October 25, 2013, 7:32 GMT

    Has anyone asked/answered this question - Is it not unfair that the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra get to have 3 teams each in the national championship? Andhra gets 2 teams. It is high time to correct this imbalance

  • Dummy4 on October 25, 2013, 6:58 GMT

    Go MP!! want the first ever title in this year! ;)

  • AZEEM on October 25, 2013, 6:22 GMT

    kerala going to rock group c, with a reputed batting side with sanju samson, v a jagadeesh and sachin baby, with tons of hopes

  • Vivek on October 25, 2013, 1:37 GMT

    Its really unfortunate that railways players had to play without any facilities not even home ground!!where as other state teams even get to play in foreign countries..

  • Venkat on October 24, 2013, 20:37 GMT

    Karn Sharma "A brilliant fielder" , Dale steyn would be in tears when he reads this article.

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