Ranji Trophy: Ishant, Saha among notable absentees as Test players participate in the tournament

After a gap of almost two years, the Ranji Trophy, India’s domestic premier first-class competition is returning to action. The 87th edition of the Ranji Trophy, which will be split into two phases on either side of the Indian Premier League (IPL), will see many current Test players play in the competition.

But wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, pacer Ishant Sharma and all-rounder Hardik Pandya will be giving the competition a miss. With the Ranji Trophy now set to begin from February 17, many players who were a part of the Test side in South Africa have the chance to keep themselves busy in red-ball cricket ahead of the Sri Lanka series at home.

Senior batters Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane will be appearing for their respective teams — Saurashtra and Mumbai. Coincidentally, both Saurashtra and Mumbai are in Elite Group D alongside Goa and Odisha and will play all matches in Ahmedabad.

Featuring in the Ranji Trophy gives both Pujara and Rahane a chance to get some valuable runs after being under scrutiny for long. Since cricket re-started after a Covid-19 enforced break, Rahane has scored just one century — against Australia on Boxing Day 2020 — while Pujara, despite playing some gutsy knocks, is yet to reach a three-figure mark — his last century was against Australia in Sydney 2019.

“Yeah, they are very good players. Hopefully, they will go back to Ranji Trophy and score a lot of runs, which I am sure they will. I don’t see any problem (for them to go back to domestic cricket after playing so much international cricket). Ranji Trophy is a huge tournament, and we have all played the tournament. So, they, too, will go back there and perform. They have played the tournament in the past when they were only playing Test cricket and were not part of the ODI or limited-overs team,” BCCI President Sourav Ganguly had said to Sportstar.

Since the start of 2021, Rahane has scored just 547 runs, averaging only 20.25 in 27 innings. Pujara, on the other hand, amassed 810 runs, averaging just 27.93 in 30 innings. The senior men’s selection committee is expected to keep a close eye on the duo’s performances in Ranji Trophy.

Apart from Rahane and Pujara, Navdeep Saini (Delhi), Mayank Agarwal (Karnataka), Priyank Panchal (Gujarat), Hanuma Vihari (Hyderabad), Jayant Yadav (Haryana) and Umesh Yadav (Vidarbha) are also expected to turn out for their respective domestic teams.

But what has been puzzling has been the absence of Ishant, Saha and Pandya from a tournament which has been the pathway for the India ‘A’ team followed by the national team. Saha, in an interview to The Telegraph on Thursday, didn’t divulge more than ‘personal reasons’ for skipping Ranji Trophy for Bengal.

“Till the (Indian) squad (for the two-Test series versus Sri Lanka) is announced, I will refrain from saying anything. Because that’s what I’ve been doing throughout. Besides, the people who are spreading news and making claims about my future should be able to say it better. At present, I’m just not thinking of retirement. It’s completely my decision as to how long I’ll continue and when I’ll hang up my boots.”

In terms of Ishant, him falling down the pecking order of Test pacers is hinted as the reason behind not turning out for Delhi in Ranji Trophy.

As far as Pandya is concerned, the newly-appointed captain of Gujarat Titans could make a comeback from an injury and rehabilitation lay-off through the white-ball game. His elder brother, Krunal, is in Baroda’s squad for the Ranji Trophy.

Meanwhile, some members of the victorious U19 World Cup winning-side, including captain Yash Dhull, have been included in Ranji Trophy squads for their respective sides.

Dhull will link up with Delhi for their matches while left-arm pacer Ravi Kumar is in Bengal’s squad. Pace all-rounder Raj Bawa, who was ‘Player of the Match’ in the final against England and opener Harnoor Singh are in Chandigarh’s squad while Aneeshwar Gautam is in Karnataka’s squad as well.

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