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Sarfaraz Khan & other players in focus ahead of the Ranji Trophy 2023/24

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Last updated on 04 Jan 2024 | 08:55 AM
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Sarfaraz Khan & other players in focus ahead of the Ranji Trophy 2023/24

The 2023/24 season of Ranji Trophy season begins on January 5

The 89th edition of the Ranji Trophy - the 2023/24 season - will commence on Friday (January 5). The most coveted red-ball competition in India, the Ranji Trophy has served as a feeder system for India’s Test team for a long time. Some players have not made it to the national side despite consistent performances in this tournament - Rajinder Goel, Amol Mazumdar and Priyank Panchal, to name a few. 

However, the Indian team stands at a point where the upcoming Ranji season holds a lot of significance. Their batting is transitioning with the ouster of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. Rohit Sharma is 36 years old, and Virat Kohli is 35. 

Ravichandran Ashwin, the only prominent off-spinner in the side, is 37 years old. There has been an influx of young pacers in the pace department, but a left-arm seamer remains the missing piece. Seam bowling all-rounders have always been on India’s wishlist. 

Hence, this year’s Ranji Trophy could be closely followed by the selectors to create more options in these departments. Some areas already have contenders, but some lack options, especially the left-arm seamer’s department, which has no names in sight.

Batters in focus

Abhimanyu Easwaran

The 28-year-old opener from Bengal is a domestic cricket veteran with the experience of 89 First-class matches since his debut in 2013. Easwaran has been a regular feature in India A’s red-ball fixtures for several years. He has joined the national team as an injury replacement a few times and is currently a part of India’s Test squad in South Africa, replacing Ruturaj Gaikwad. 

An orthodox red-ball opener, Easwaran scored 154 in the Irani Cup match in March 2023. Across the last four Ranji Trophy seasons, the right-hander has averaged 50.7 with seven hundreds which speaks for his consistency. Easwaran has had low returns in his last three innings (29 runs), but another good Ranji season can brighten his chances to take that last step towards his maiden Test cap. 

Sarfaraz Khan

There is a popular conjecture that Sarfaraz Khan should have played for India by now. But due to a combination of some unknown and alleged reasons, it hasn’t happened yet. 

No other batter has scored more runs at a higher average than Sarfaraz. The 26-year-old Mumbai batter has mustered 2,466 runs in the last three Ranji Trophy editions at an average of 123.3. He has 10 hundreds in 27 innings. 

Sarfaraz’s array of strokes against spin makes him a great value add in India’s middle-order. There were strong rumours that he was in contention to make the cut when India toured Bangladesh for two Tests in December 2022. However, there are question marks on his game against extreme pace, which discards him as a long-term option. His record for India A isn’t great either - an average of 34.1 in eight innings. 

But a change in the selection committee can help Sarfaraz’s cause. But for that, it is important for him to pile up another big Ranji season. 

Rajat Patidar

The 30-year-old batter from Madhya Pradesh has made rapid strides in the last two years. He has been pivotal in MP’s rise, scoring 1223 at an average of 61.2 in the last two Ranji Trophy seasons. He has the IPL limelight too, which he earned with a sublime hundred in the Eliminator of the 2022 season. 

He made his ODI debut in India’s recently-concluded series against South Africa. In between, he scored heavily against New Zealand A in 2022, averaging 106.3 across four innings.

Patidar has a lot going his way. He missed out on a lot of cricket in 2023 due to injury, but an ODI debut last month shows the selector’s interest in him. Another good season should put him at the forefront in the middle-order role for the national side, with the right-hander good against both pace and spin. 

Wicketkeeping options? 

Only 19, Kumar Kushagra is the latest budding wicketkeeper in domestic cricket from the land of MS Dhoni. Kushagra has featured in two seasons, representing Jharkhand and East Zone. In 22 innings, he has accrued 868 runs at an average of 39.5. 

In the only hundred of his red-ball career as yet, he smoked 266 against Nagaland off only 269 deliveries. The innings made him the youngest batter to notch up an individual score of 250 in first-class cricket. 

Kushagra has impressive numbers in List A cricket, too - 700 runs at an average of 46.7. He scored some tough runs for East Zone in the 2023 Deodhar Trophy. 

Saurashtra’s Harvik Desai is another in-form wicketkeeper in domestic cricket, with hundreds in three of the four Ranji Trophy seasons he has played. In the most recent season, he notched up three hundreds, averaging 40.9 for his 614 runs. 

While both are a work in progress, the absence of wicketkeeping options in domestic cricket has already put them in the pecking order. The pipeline of wicketkeepers only has three options now - KL Rahul, who might need workload management in the future; Rishabh Pant, whose return is uncertain and Ishan Kishan, who is still untested at this level.

Any off-spinners in the domestic circuit?

Every domestic side in India has a left-arm spinner, but only a few feature off-break bowlers. There is a similar trend in the national setup as well. The current pool has two left-arm spinners and only Ravichandran Ashwin as the specialist off-spinner. Ashwin has bowled nearly 90% of India’s off-spin overs in the last ten years. It is time to look for a few off-spin options in the domestic circuit. 

Services' Pulkit Narang and Saurashtra’s Yuvrajsinh Dodiya are some of the consistent off-spinners over the last two seasons. Narang has snaffled 42 wickets in 19 innings at 24.1 runs apiece. He is highly economical, going at only 2.8 runs per over, and can contribute with the bat. 

Dodiya, only 23 years old, averages 22.2 for his 30 wickets in 12 innings. His tally included a five-wicket haul against Delhi and four-fors against strong teams like Mumbai (twice) and Tamil Nadu. These factors will keep Dodiya in the limelight during the upcoming Ranji season. 

The perennial seam-bowling all-rounder problem

Shivam Mavi’s fortunes in white-ball cricket have gone through ups and downs but he has been a consistent performer in red-ball cricket. A right-arm seamer, Mavi has 59 wickets in 28 innings at 19.8 runs per wicket. He is a genuine swing bowler, something that India have been lacking since the times of Praveen Kumar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. 

However, it is the additional quality of his batting that makes him a prospect for the national team. With Shardul Thakur fading away and Hardik Pandya distancing himself from the longer format, Mavi becomes the next option in the order. 

Given that he stays fit, continues to pick wickets and produces runs with the bat, Mavi could well be fast-tracked into the Test side later this year.

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