The group stages of the Ranji Trophy in 2019-20 are done and dusted with Gujarat, Bengal, Karnataka, Saurashtra, and Andhra qualifying from Elite Groups A and B, Jammu and Kashmir and Odisha making it from Group C and Goa the lone team from Plate Division qualifying to the quarter-finals starting 20 February.
The group stages spread across two and a half months threw up some interesting trends with big teams failing and some underrated sides punching above their weight. From stunning individual performances to exciting matches, the Ranji Trophy was a spectacle this season.
Here, we take a look at some major takeaways from the group stages.
Group Stage Standings
Mumbai’s fall raises serious questions
They made the highest score in the season, racking up 688 against Uttar Pradesh, but for the second time in two seasons, heavyweights Mumbai failed to make it to the quarter-finals despite having loads of talent at their disposal. Bowling was a major disappointment with left-arm spinner Shams Mulani, the standout bowler for the team, featuring at nearly the 50th position for the top wicket-takers in the tournament. Shashank Attarde was the second-highest wicket-taker and the only other Mumbai bowler with 20 or more wickets in the season.
With the bat, Sarfaraz Khan stood out and Mulani chipped in with runs, but the likes of Siddhesh Lad and Jay Bista disappointed. Pertinent to Mumbai’s issues was the fact that five of their eight matches ended in a draw. They won just one game in the season and went on to record a series of disappointing results.
Mumbai started the season with a win against Baroda but suffered a shocking loss to Railways at home in the next game, getting bowled out for 114 and 198. They went on to lose to another heavyweight, Karnataka, at home, once again being bowled out for less than 200 in either innings. Drawn affairs against Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh further had Mumbai scratching to reach the top five. With very few individuals stepping up, Mumbai have serious questions to contend with before next season.
Rise of Jammu and Kashmir and Goa a sign of things to come?
With Mumbai, Bengal, Kerala, and Hyderabad on a downward spiral, two promising performances came from Goa and Jammu and Kashmir. Last season, Goa had finished Elite Group C with zero wins in nine matches, suffering seven losses and winning none, racking up just six points in all. Relegated to the Plate Division, Goa overturned their fortunes and topped the Plate Division this year with a season-high 50 points. Incidentally, they won seven games and lost none this time around.
If Goa’s story was inspirational — even if they were helped by being the dominant team in the low-grade group — Jammu and Kashmir had a fairytale of their own. They had won just three matches and lost five in the last season, finishing seventh in Elite Group C. This time around, they topped Group C with 39 points, recording six wins and losing just one game in all. Abdul Samad was their story of the season — recording a stunning 35 sixes and striking at a rate of 116.13 — although they had other heroes in Shubham Khajuria, Aquib Nabi and Parvez Rasool.
Goa and Kashmir will now hope to make an impact in the quarter-finals, if not record upset wins. Goa will clash against Gujarat in the quarters while Kashmir have a strong opponent in Karnataka with their home game touted to be shifted to a neutral venue.
Two enigmas — Sarfaraz Khan and Manoj Tiwary — tell contrasting stories
Two standout players from the season remain two of India’s greatest enigmas in first-class cricket. The experienced Manoj Tiwary, who has never minced words when it comes to his performances and lack of national selectors’ attention, backed up his words with a stunning show for Bengal the season. In 11 innings, Tiwary piled on 641 runs at an average of 71.22 including a maiden triple century against Hyderabad.
The first triple-centurion from Bengal in 21 years, Tiwary stood out with his resilience as Bengal made it to the quarters even with star player Abhimanyu Easwaran struggling. In their qualification-claiming game against Punjab on a slow, low wicket in Patiala, Tiwary stood out with two outstanding knocks of 73* and 65 even as just four other players made over 20 from the Bengal side across both innings.
If Tiwary was brilliant, Sarfaraz Khan shone through in a format he wasn’t expected to make a mark. Touted as a T20 cricketer, Sarfaraz switched back to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh and after the mandatory cool-off period, made a resounding impact in the season with massive runs. A 391-ball 301 from No 6 against Uttar Pradesh in Mumbai was followed by a stunning 213-ball 226 in the next match against Himachal Pradesh at Dharamsala and a 210-ball 177 against Madhya Pradesh. At 22, it feels like Sarfaraz has been around for too long, but the major performances came this season after a bout of injury and rehabilitation made him leaner and fitter.
“I was dropped at Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in 2016 because of my fitness. Virat Kohli told me straightaway while there were no doubts over my skills, my fitness was not letting me get to the next level. He was very honest with me about where I was,” Sarfaraz said after his triple ton. Now, with fitness levels getting better and big runs — 928 runs at an average of 154.66 and daddy hundreds — in the season, Sarfaraz has made a rousing comeback. Now it is up to him to maintain that tempo in the following seasons.
If Tiwary’s story raises questions about India’s handling of not-so-teen-prodigies (Karun Nair is another recent example while Amol Muzumdar is an all-time domestic giant who was met with questionable treatment), Sarfaraz’s form will test India’s ability to handle the younger crop of talented players.
Bowling all-rounders aplenty
With the group stages ending, there is a rather unique set of players making noises at the top in the season — the all-rounders. A near-extinct category of players in the Indian domestic circuit once, all-rounders had a prominent impact in the season. Sanjay Yadav, the Meghalaya left-arm spinner, topped the wickets chart with 55 wickets in his maiden season. He scored a first-class double century and averaged 46.38 in the season, hitting 26 sixes and making an impact in the Plate League.
Harshal Patel, second in the wicket-takers list with 52 wickets, also made 292 runs. Manisankar Murasingh from Tripura and Bihar’s Ashutosh Aman — also in the top 10 wicket-takers list — have runs in first-class cricket. Uttar Pradesh’s Saurabh Kumar, who picked up 44 wickets in the season, has a first-class average close to 30.
If the bowling charts were dominated by bowlers who could hold a bat, the batting chart will worry India a bit. Of the 12 batsmen with 700 or more runs in the season, seven were over 30 years of age and of the remaining five, only one — Sarfaraz Khan — was less than 26. The younger lot of players did not make a major impression with the bat with the heavy runs coming from the experienced lot of Taruwar Kohli, Puneet Bisht, Paras Dogra, Amit Verma, and Shrikant Mundhe.
Does the points system need an overhaul for IPL’s 'poor cousin'?
There have been long debates regarding pay and the points system in the Ranji Trophy. While Sunil Gavaskar dubbed Ranji Trophy as IPL’s “poor cousin”, the points system is a more pertinent issue. It sparked controversies yet again this season with Mumbai, despite losing just two matches, failing to make it to the quarter-finals as five of their matches ended in draws.
According to the current format, five teams from Elite Groups A and B qualify for the quarter-finals. Two teams from Elite Group C and the top team from Plate Group make it eight teams in the quarters.
The points system dictates that a win gives a team six points while an innings win or a 10-wicket win gives one bonus point. If a team takes a first-innings lead in a drawn match, it gets three points per the points system while the other team gets only one point.
Aditya Tare, Mumbai captain and wicket-keeper, expressed unhappiness at the points system recently, going on to comment about how the administrators can take a cue from UK and Australia in having batting and bowling points. He went on to stress about how pitches also play a role in the qualification with five of Mumbai’s matches ending in a draw. That only five of 18 teams from Elite Groups A and B combined make it to the quarter-finals irked Tare.
“With neutral curators, you don’t know how the pitch would come up in terms of result, everyone needs result-oriented pitches to qualify...then you get a flat pitch. You cannot fight for six points on a placid pitch, so if there are batting points, there are some more points to gain from that game, so that can be looked into. Five out of 18 is a pretty tough call,” he said.
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