An ensemble cast of ageing veterans shunned by their home sides, moderately-talented work-horses plying inconspicuously for years and a scattering of promising youngsters galvanised and guided by a snubbed coach triumphantly defying the odds to seize the ultimate glory. The David slaying Goliath narrative has been the resounding theme of Ranji Trophy this decade. It has been amplified yet again by Vidarbha’s unprecedented run, just like Gujarat last year, or Rajasthan in 2011 and 2012, with as many as three new champions in the last seven years, thus decentralising the hegemony of a few domestic sides like Mumbai.
It’s not a case of traditional powerhouses like Mumbai and Delhi waning. Both were the losing finalists this year and the last. It is, instead, that the hitherto meeker sides are punching above their weight, filled with a renewed self-belief. Not only the three new winners, teams like Jharkhand, which reached the semifinal last year, and Kerala, which enjoyed an extended winning streak stopped only by the eventual champions, have showed signs of comeuppance. This is good news for Indian cricket, because a competent domestic league is the foundation of a strong national side, with fresh talents like Gujarat’s Priyank Panchal last year or Vidarbha’s medium pacer Rajneesh Gurbani this year.
Beneath Vidarbha’s success is systematic planning. They roped in Chandrakant Pandit, who has won the Ranji Trophy multiple times as a player and coach, besides the under-rated bowling coach Subroto Banerjee. Among the first changes they introduced was the shelving of traditional training in nets, opting for match simulation on open ground. Likewise, Kerala shipped in one of the finest coaches in Dav Whatmore. All this indicates the increased ambitions of domestic sides, which, in turn, ensures that there’s a steady stream of talented players knocking on the selectors’ doors.