The Ranji Trophy remains one of the most important markers of judging the quality of cricket in India. It is still India’s premier domestic tournament and provides a platform for players (newbies and experienced) to showcase their talent and prove their worth.
Players are often selected for the national team based on their performances in the domestic games and with Ranji being the longest tournament, players have the chance to prove their consistency. Not only do the newcomers/fringe players get a chance to prove their mettle, but also players who’ve been dropped from the national team due to poor performances.
In addition to that, former cricketers have given the Ranji Trophy a lot of importance. In fact, Rahul Dravid, India ‘A’ and Under-19 coach, convinced the selectors to pick two different teams for the upcoming India ‘A’ one-day series, giving importance to Ranji Trophy performances.
With the 2017/18 edition of the Ranji Trophy just around the corner, all eyes will be on these five players.
#5 Mohammed Siraj
The 23-year-old pacer from Hyderabad, Mohammed Siraj, is one of the best fast-bowlers in the domestic circuit at the moment. Making his first-class debut in December 2015, Siraj had a breakthrough Ranji season last year where he picked up 41 wickets (second-highest).
The stellar Ranji performances earned him an IPL call-up where he played for Sunrisers Hyderabad, taking 10 wickets in six games. He grew in confidence as he shared the dressing room with some experienced players like Ashish Nehra, Trent Boult and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
His stellar form earned him a place in the India ‘A’ squad as well, where he continued his good work, both in South Africa and India. The challenge for Siraj will be to maintain his high level and show selectors that he can have more than just one good season. With India touring many countries in the next 18 months and with a few injury-prone pacers amongst their ranks, strong performances in this Ranji season could help him earn a maiden call-up to the national side.
#4 Priyank Panchal
In the past couple of seasons, the 27-year-old Gujarat opener has made headlines with his consistent batting exploits. Priyank Panchal, who is a keen observer of the game, topped the batting charts in the Ranji Trophy last season and the recently-concluded Duleep Trophy.
Scoring 1310 runs at an average of 87.33 and 293 runs at an average of 97.67 in Ranji and Duleep Trophy respectively, Panchal has become one of the latest batting sensations in the country. His domestic performances earned him a spot in the India ‘A’ team that played New Zealand ‘A’ recently. Though he didn’t get any big score, he did ensure his side got off to a couple of solid starts.
#3 Karn Sharma
Karn Sharma is an old-fashioned leg-spinner who puts a lot of revs on the ball. Karn has been around in the domestic arena since the 2007 season but hasn’t made a mark, as a result of which he has played only four international games for India.
After making his international debut in England (T20I) in 2014, Karn played a couple of ODIs against Sri Lanka the same year before making his Test debut in Australia in 2014 (it was a surprise as India decided to drop the experienced Ashwin). He hasn’t represented the national team since.
Karn has started the 2017/18 season on a bright note. With 15 wickets in two games in the Duleep Trophy, he was the highest wicket-taker. In the India ‘A’ series against New Zealand ‘A’, he took 16 wickets in two 4-day matches.
With Karn turning 30 in three weeks, it is now or never for him to produce impactful performances and grab the selectors’ attention this Ranji season. Else, it could all go downhill for him, as India are nurturing a few promising young leg-spinners at the moment.
#2 Rishabh Pant
One of the biggest positives for India in the 2016 Under-19 World Cup was the emergence of Rishabh Pant. The dashing left-handed wicket-keeper batsman made all the right moves and has had a brilliant start to his career.
A terrific Ranji season last year, where he scored 972 runs in 12 innings (the tournament’s fourth highest) at a phenomenal strike-rate of 107.28 was followed by a superb IPL, which led him to the T20I squad in the national team. He soon made his debut in the 3rd T20I against England in Bengaluru. He was also in the ODI and T20 squads that toured West Indies but played only the T20I game, scoring a sluggish 38. He returned to form soon after, during the India ‘A’ games.
Regarded as Dhoni’s successor in limited-overs, the time is right for Pant to make a big impact this Ranji season, as India have a lot of away tours coming up and Pant can be the backup keeper. This Ranji season could actually shape Pant’s near future.
#1 Shreyas Iyer
The 22-year old Mumbai batsman has been one of the most consistent players in the last few years of domestic cricket. He has scored 800+ runs in every Ranji season in the last three years (1321 runs in the 2015-16 season). Overall, Iyer has amassed 3668 runs in 42 First-class games at a brilliant average of 54.74, scoring 10 hundreds and 18 fifties.
Iyer has the capability to bat anywhere in the batting order (opening, No. 3 or in the middle order). One of his best knocks was the double century he scored against Australia in the warm-up game earlier this year, counter-attacking with a brilliant 202. He was also called up as a replacement for Virat Kohli in the fourth Test against Australia earlier this year.
Iyer has been knocking at the selectors’ door hard, but strong performances in the upcoming Ranji season may help him break that door, earning him a debut for India in the near future.