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Ranji Trophy 2013-14 season has taken increased meaning in the larger context of cricket in India, as it officially heralds an era, in over a quarter of a century when there would be no Sachin Tendulkar to comfort our jittery nerves. Thankfully, there have been some encouraging stories already.
Cheteshwar Pujara – India’s designated new-age sheet anchor has shown an appetite for runs which can only bode well for the future. A run-accumulator in classical mould, Pujara recently scored his 9th first class double century (269) in the Saurashtra vs Tamil Nadu match. It was the third consecutive first class century for the Rajkot Run Machine, following up on his test century in Mumbai, and another in the match vs Bengal. Two matches ago, he had also scored an unbeaten triple century, become one of the only nine men to have two or more first class triple centuries. His count of first class tons (25) is fast improving too. To put it in perspective, Wasim Jaffer at nearly 35, and 216 matches has only recently reached 50, where as the record – shared by two Mumbai (and India) stalwarts – Tendulkar and Gavaskar is 81.
But it is the double-century list on which he is fast racing past Indian milestones. Among Indian batsmen, only Vijay Merchant (11), Sunil Gavaskar, Vijay Hazare and Rahul Dravid (10 each) have hit more first-class double-centuries. Pujara’s first class average is the eighth-highest on the all-time list (63.10) and his sternest test yet will arrive as he prepares for the South African tour. He is, however, the only one among the young brigade to have had prior experience of batting in South Africa during their previous tour of 2010-11.
Pravin Tambe – At 42, Mumbai legspinner Pravin Tambe has been named in the Ranji squad for the season. If he plays, he might well be the oldest first-class debutant since Australian Donald Blackie in 1924! Tambe was one of the highest wicket takers and regularly played a starring role for Mumbai Indians in the IPL and the CLT20.
“We had a little bit of discussion before arriving at a consensus about Pravin, but the point is none of the young spinners are ready to earn the Mumbai cap. Iqbal Abdullah, who had been a part of the squad before we asked him to play the U-25 game last week, hasn’t been bowling well. Had we had a deserving youngster, we would have gone for it, but barring his physical age, Pravin fits the bill in every respect.” affirmed Deepak Jadhav, the selection committee chairman who was hosting his first meeting since he came to power.
“He has been picking tons of wickets for years and years. Not only at the club level, but he has also proven himself in T20s at the IPL and CLT20. Moreover, his attitude is as positive as any youngster. He is lively on the field and even if he isn’t in the eleven, he is a great motivator in the dressing room. He is an asset to the team, so I would tell everyone not to look at his age. He is fit, he has the skills and he has the ability and desire to succeed at this level, so he deserves an opportunity.“
Yusuf Pathan – Meanwhile, the Pathan senior, and the Baroda skipper yet again reminded his fans of his ability to take the match by the scruff of it’s neck. On a Moti Bagh pitch which saw a fall of 32 wickets in merely two days (yup, this happened!) – Baroda batted first and were bowled out for 152. In reply though, Madhya Pradesh were bundled out for 60, as no one passed Naman Ojha’s 17. With the pitch virtually a bunsen, Yusuf scored a century in the third innings, a typically whirlwind affair – 106 off 101 balls with five sixes, which made the difference. MP collapsed again for 90 to be handed a huge defeat.
Most of the fringe players for the Men in Blue filled their boots and gained some confidence ahead of a busy season. Test probables Ajinkya Rahane (133 v Vidarbha), Dinesh Karthik (133 v Saurashtra) did their chances no harm. Parthiv Patel (189 v Jharkhand) and Abhinav Mukund (240 v Saurashtra) also ensured they are not too far from the selector’s radar with big scores.
Parvez Rasool, the first player from Kashmir valley, gave good account of himself as he led Jammu and Kashmir to a huge victory against Kerala with 40 and 100* with the bat.
Among bowlers, former India pacer V R V Singh, who had once impressed with his pace in South Africa tour of 2006-07, came back to first class cricket after five years and completed a dream comeback with a five-for. Jaidev Unadkat took 4-99 in his last outing .
Rishi Dhawan, the medium-fast pacer of relatively unfancied Himachal Pradesh, though, has taken the season by storm as he recorded five or more wickets for five consecutive First class matches in this season. His sequence this season reads: 5/29, 5/58 v Assam ; 5/75, 3/85 v Hyderabad; 4/70, 5/51 v J&K, 4/32, 3/48 v Tripura ; and 5/68, 0/63 v Goa. To top it, he has also scored 58, 47, 0, 50, 67 and 89 in his last six innings with the bat. More such performances, and the 23-year old could be hard to ignore.