After the longest interruption in its history — not even World War II could stall it — the Ranji Trophy resumed on Friday. It has been 22 months since Saurashtra defeated Bengal to lift the trophy, before the pandemic wreaked misery on lives and careers. For hundreds of cricketers across the country, the wait was as anxious as it was frustrating. Now their hopes and aspirations, dreams and ambitions would be reloaded.
It will be played out in unusual circumstances with every step in place to prevent an outbreak of the pandemic. Like teams would be allowed substitutes, a team could comprise nine players in the eventuality of players testing positive for coronavirus during a match. The games would be played in six cities — none at home venues — across two phases, either of the IPL. Despite all these practical difficulties, the players would be just relieved that the tournament has resumed. It is deplorable that the board kept delaying and postponing the Ranji Trophy even as it conducted domestic white-ball tournaments like the Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare. True that Ranji Trophy is a logistical headache, but it is the backbone of Indian cricket. Just one-tenth of cricketers in the country play international cricket or the IPL. For the rest, Ranji Trophy is the most defining period in their calendar. The empire would crumble, if it is ignored or compromised.
There is a clutch of players looking to make an impression. For instance, pace-bowling talents like Umran Malik and Arzan Nagwaswalla would hope to make an impact and force their way into the senior team. There are those like Priyank Panchal who would knock harder on the doors of selection; others like Prithvi Shaw who would be determined to comeback. Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara would seek the domestic route to rediscover their waning touch in a final bid to resuscitate their flailing Test career. There are U-19 heroes who would look to make a big bold step into the world of men. There, thus, is hope and optimism, even a sense of renewal, neutering the fear of another lurking wave.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on February 18, 2022 under the title ‘Hopeful pitch’.