Domestic cricket matters. There's a popular myth that first-class cricket in India is meaningless, that batsmen who make runs are merely flat-track bullies, that spinners who take wickets do so because of dust-bowl pitches, that it's really all bull. Well, it isn't.

The selectors, whom we all love to malign because we're all closet selectors ourselves, have done a commendable job in recent years of spotting talent in domestic cricket and bringing it to fruition at the international level - the most recent example being Tinu Yohannan who, after a mere eight games at the first-class level, was catapulted into Test cricket, and showed he belonged there. Youngsters have made their India debuts by the truckload in the last couple of years, all on the basis of first-class performances. And let us not forget VVS Laxman; he made his transition from Test opener to middle-order bat with a string of centuries in the Ranji Trophy. Clearly, the selectors were watching. And clearly, they still are.

One man their eagle gaze is surely fixed upon is Pankaj Dharmani of Punjab. Dharmani has been a prolific scorer in domestic cricket - first-class average: 55.4 - and played a solitary one-day match for India in 1996-97. But that was many summers ago, and he has come a long way since.

After an explosive start this season - three hundreds in his first three innings - he was called up to keep wicket for the Board President's XI against England. Ah, your ears perk up, keep wicket? Is he a wicketkeeper then? Well, yes. He started a few years ago as a keeper who could bat, but his prolific batsmanship saw him become a specialist bat. But he's back to keeping this year, and looks competent behind the stumps. Of course, as the Deep Dasgupta fiasco shows us, we need a keeper who can bat more than a batsman who can keep. How good a keeper is Dharmani, a man who has kept to the likes of Harbhajan and Sarandeep? The selectors certainly have that same question in mind, and we shall find out soon enough.

North - Many openers, few centuries
All eyes were on the openers in this zone. Punjab had Manish Sharma and Ravneet Ricky, the pair that had performed so creditably in the Under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka two years ago. Sharma has all the strokes in the book while Ricky has the technique to open, but they looked out of sorts, averaging a first-wicket stand of only 17.42 this season. Ricky managed a hundred in a fascinating battle against Delhi - Punjab, chasing 499 for a first-innings lead, managed 'only' 441 - but he must convert his starts if he is to make an impression on the national selectors. The same problem plagued the Delhi openers - Akash Chopra and Gautam Gambhir hit up one hundred each, though they got a start almost every time they strode to the crease. It's the big ones that matter.

The men who impressed in this zone were both middle-order bats - Mithun Manhas made three hundreds for Delhi, and Sangram Singh of HP had three-figure knocks of 215, 190 and 100 to his credit, as well as three fifties, in just 5 matches. It was largely due to his efforts that HP qualified for the knock-out stages, so we certainly shall be seeing more of this man.

Central - Railways roll on
Railways, after their smashing ascent to the Ranji final last year, were the four-hundred-pound gorilla here, and expectedly, they topped the league. Like the great football clubs of Europe, it's all got to do with recruitment. Amit Pagnis was Mumbai's loss, Yere Goud was Karnataka's and this year, Jai P Yadav was Madhya Pradesh's. They had a problem of plenty at the top of the order, and opted to open with Yadav and Sanjay Bangar, shifting Pagnis down to No.3; the dimunitive 23-year old left-hander wasn't too bothered by this, as he hit up 126 and 133* against Rajasthan. Goud was his usual consistent self, with a massive 190 against UP being his best effort. 20-year old S Raza Ali - what's he doing in the Railways so young? - got consecutive hundreds against Vidarbha and MP; thankfully, the team he's in ensures that he will get to test his skills against better sides.

West - The Baroda Blues
Baroda won the last Ranji Trophy, and were duly rewarded when their top performers, Jacob Martin and Connor Williams, were called up to do national duty. Sadly, things haven't gone so well for them since - Martin and Williams remain peripheral figures in the Indian squad, and Baroda are third in the zone, one bad match away from being knocked out before the knock-out stages even begin. India's best wicketkeeper by far, Nayan Mongia, bats at No. 3 for them and scores as prolifically as any middle-order bat in the country - but continues to be ignored.

While Williams remains on the sidelines of the national team, Wasim Jaffer of Mumbai isn't even being considered. That's a shocking travesty, going by his fine 178 - off 180 balls, with 24 fours and one six - against Baroda. His Test debut - a couple of seasons ago - probably came too early in his career, before he was ready for the bigger stage. Well, he's ready now.

East - Don't diss Rohan
Rohan Gavaskar, it is disparagingly - and unfairly - said, is captain of Bengal because of the alleged nexus between Jagmohan Dalmiya and Sunil Gavaskar, Rohan's father. Not true. Gavaskar - the younger one - has a first-class average of 48.25 and has been outstanding for Bengal for a few seasons now. If anything, his last name has actually worked against him. He is a left-handed middle-order batsman, so it is ludicrous to compare him to his father, as we all seem to do subliminally. His biggest weakness is his inability to convert his starts into big scores - like Laxman does at the Test level, Gavaskar plays plenty of sparkling cameos in first-class games, before throwing it away. His 166 against Tripura this season suggests that might be changing. If he does play for India someday - more likely in the one-day version of the game - let us not rush to pre-judge him harshly.

South - Bye bye, Karnataka?
At the time of writing, three-time Ranji champion of the 90s, Karnataka, were precariously placed fourth in the zone, needing an outright win against Goa to qualify for the knock-outs, and hoping that either Hyderabad or Tamil Nadu lose their final match - not likely. Goa have an outside chance; their bowlers would not inspire fear in schoolkids in Mumbai, but they have some hot batters at the Ranji level. Kiran Powar made three hundreds in four matches, while Tanveer Jabbar got a ton against AP and 50s in virtually every other innings he played. Sadly, out go Goa soon, and these two gentlemen go back into the wilderness.

Domestic cricket is not just the stage on which careers are made, it's also the arena where they draw to an end. Sadagoppan Ramesh might be on just such a journey. After a string of 40s in Sri Lanka, Ramesh seemed a fixture in the Test team. Then, he dropped out from the trip to South Africa - rumours suggested he might have deliberately declared himself unfit to avoid the stern test abroad. Well, Deep Dasgupta came good, Connor Williams established himself as reserve opener, and now Ramesh has to prove himself all over again. Problem is, with a run of 36, 1, 25, 16, 28 and 2* in his six innings so far in the Ranji league, he's having a bit of trouble holding his place in the Tamil Nadu side. The man who could endorse Fevicol for the way his feet remain stuck to the crease is clearly finding his defects exposed at the domestic level as well. Can he make a comeback now? That sure will take some footwork.

Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He writes the blog India Uncut. @amitvarma