The Ranji Trophy will return to the Indian domestic calendar for the 2021-22 season after a Covid-19-induced cancellation in 2020-21. It will be part of a full 2127-match domestic calendar for the coming season, with the BCCI announcing on Saturday that it would hold all tournaments, including for the various age groups and the women. The Ranji Trophy has been slotted into a three-month window, from November 16, 2021 to February 19, 2022.
The first tournament of the season will be the Senior Women's One Day League starting on September 21, with the men's season beginning with the T20 format in the form of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, from October 20 to November 12. The Ranji Trophy will start four days after that. The Mushtaq Ali tournament will run in parallel with the 2021 men's T20 World Cup, scheduled to be held in the UAE and Oman from October 17 to November 14. The BCCI is likely to expand the IPL from the 2022 season, and a mega auction is expected to take place, possibly in December, after the Mushtaq Ali tournament is over.
The 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy will follow the Ranji Trophy's conclusion, beginning four days after the Ranji Trophy is scheduled to end. The Vijay Hazare will run from February 23 to March 26.
While the Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare trophies were both held last season, the longer window needed for the Ranji Trophy, India's premier first-class competition, in its traditional home-and-away format was not possible because of the Covid-19 restrictions. It was the first time the Ranji Trophy had not been played since its inception in 1934-35, with the tournament having taken place even during World War II.
Saurashtra beat Bengal in the final of the 2019-20 edition, which concluded just before the pandemic hit, for their first title.
Given the packed calendar, there was no room for the Duleep Trophy or the Irani Cup. Both first-class competitions were not held last year either. The Duleep Trophy was originally a zonal first-class tournament, but had been played by three teams since 2016-17: India Red, India Blue and India Green. The Irani Cup is a one-off five-day match, played between the Ranji Trophy champions and a Rest of India side.
The BCCI is yet to release details of venues and other logistical matters for the season, though it said in a press release signed by secretary Jay Shah: "The BCCI is confident of hosting the domestic season with health and safety of players and all people involved being paramount."
There will be 38 teams in the fray, as there have been for the past two years. There will be three Elite Groups in the Ranji Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy - A, B and C - and the Plate Group. Groups A and B will have nine teams each, while Group C and the Plate Group will have ten teams each in both competitions. The Mushtaq Ali Trophy will have five groups: A, B, C, D and E. Groups A and B will each have seven teams, with the other three comprising of eight teams each.
Is the Women's T20 Challenge on?
The women's one-day Challenger Trophy will follow the Senior Women's One-Day League, from October 27 to 31, and the timing of the tournaments puts a question mark over the 2021 edition of the Women's T20 Challenge.
The tournament has taken place in the final week of the IPL, alongside the playoffs, for the past few seasons. IPL 2021 was suspended indefinitely after 29 matches because of multiple bio-bubble breaches, and is expected to resume in the UAE from mid-September to mid-October. That clashes with the two women's competitions that will kickstart the domestic season.
There is, however, a Women's T20 League scheduled from March 19 to April 11.
There is, however, no first-class cricket on the cards for the women, who are back playing the format after a gap of almost seven years. The national team played a Test in England recently, and has an upcoming day-night fixture in Australia lined up.