After months of uncertainty, Indian domestic cricketers can finally heave a collective sigh of relief as according to reports, the 2021-22 edition of the Ranji Trophy will kick-start from 16th February, making a comeback after a hiatus of two years.
There were concerns about the plausibility of the competition, given that we will have a two-month-long Indian T20 League season and fixture coagulation could be a major issue, but the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has seemingly found a solution to it. According to reports, the 2021/22 Ranji Trophy fixtures will be clubbed into two groups – one set of the fixtures will be played prior to the Indian T20 League, and the competition will then stay on hold and will resume after the completion of the Indian T20 League.
Ranji Trophy Returns After Two Years
We witnessed the last Ranji Trophy game back in March of 2020, which was the final of the 2019/20 edition between Saurashtra and Bengal. However, the 2020/21 edition of the competition had to be abandoned owing to the widespread COVID-19 pandemic. It also became the first Ranji Trophy season to be cancelled since the inception of this competition in 1934/35.
Arrangements in place for the 2021/22 season
Besides splitting up the fixtures in two halves as we have mentioned before, BCCI has also made other mitigation arrangements in place to ensure an obstacle-free competition. They have selected a total of nine venues for the competition, all of them being from ‘COVID-19 Green Zone’ cities.
Matches will be held at Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Guwahati, Trivandrum, Cuttack, Baroda, Ahmedabad and Rajkot. Among these nine venues, eight will be used for the Elite Group matches, while all eight teams of the Plate Group will compete in a single venue in a bid to reduce travel and contamination chances.
The players will supposedly join the bio-bubble on 10th February and will have to complete a mandatory quarantine period of five days before they take the field on 16th February. 30 Elite Group teams have been divided into five groups, while all the Plate League teams are in a single group.
Who are the defending champions?
Saurashtra are currently the defending champions of the Ranji Trophy, having lifted the trophy for the first time in their history back in March 2020. Batting first, Jaydev Unadkat’s boys put up a massive total of 425 runs on the board, courtesy of a sublime ton from Arpit Vasavada. Bengal could only score 381 runs in the reply, and though the match itself did not produce a winner, Saurashtra were declared champions based on their first-inning lead.
Contenders for the title
Mumbai have always been the dominant force in the Indian domestic circuit, but more so in this particular competition. They have won the title a record 41 teams, while the team nearest to them, Karnataka has secured a meagre 8 titles. Led by the promising youngster Prithvi Shaw, the team representing the business capital of the nation has a well-balanced squad that boasts of the perfect amalgamation of young talents like Shaw and Yashasvi Jaiswal and some vastly experienced campaigners in Dhawal Kulkarni and Aditya Tare.
Besides Mumbai, Karnataka are among the prime contenders to lift the title. They have won two of the last seven instalments of this competition and boast of some renowned names in their ranks. The Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) has released a 28-man probables list for the competition, which features the likes of KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Manish Pandey – all of whom have international experience. Budding talents like Aneeshwar Gautam and Devdutt Padikkal have also been named in the probables list.
Though Mumbai and Karnataka have traditionally been the big players of this competition, Vidarbha have recently emerged as a powerhouse. Faiz Fazal’s men, who have won two of the last three editions of this competition, does not have too many superstars in their ranks, but they are a resilient bunch who tend to punch above their weight every now and then. Besides their skipper, Apoorv Wankhade, Akshay Wakhare, Atharva Taide and Akshay Karnewar are among their key players.
Saurashtra do not have the most intimidating squad on paper, but having done it once, they will be geared up to secure their second Ranji Trophy. Led by Jaydev Unadkat, the team from Gujarat has talented players across all departments. Sheldon Jackson and Arpit Vasadava will lead their bowling contingent, skipper Unadkat and Chetan Sakariya comprise their pace battery and they also have a wily spinner in Dharmendrasinh Jadeja.
Significant hike in salary
BCCI has often faced strong criticism for the low wages that domestic cricketers received for playing in the Ranji Trophy, but that will not be the case anymore as they have announced a significant hike in the salary structure.
The board will pay INR 60,000 per day to the players who have played over 40 matches, which means an experienced cricketer will be able to earn INR 2.40 lakhs from one match. Previously, these cricketers used to receive INR 35,000 per day, which is, INR 1.40 lakhs per match. The board has also announced that the players who have played less than 21 matches will be paid INR 40,000 per day, while those who have made between 21 to 40 appearances will earn INR 50,000 per day.
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