Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir

Virender Sehwag (left) and Gautam Gambhir have lost their place in the Indian Test side as openers © AFP

By Aayush Puthran

The ongoing season of the Ranji Trophy has garnered an unexpected amount of attention, unseen for years. And surprisingly this time, it is not in search of a new talent, but to test where a whole different generation of cricketers for whom life has come a full circle. Yes, the attention is not hogged by the star performers of last season or the Under-19 World Cup winning batch of 2012, but the same set of players who won India innumerable matches for nearly a decade and are left to grinding it out in the domestic circuit to prove themselves worthy of a place in the national side.

It has been indeed a great planning by Sandeep Patil & Co. to put the non-performers to task and make them hungrier for success. The likes of Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan have proved their potential and their worth in the past. But it is about not resting on their laurels, on the past efforts that count for little or nothing at all in the future. Nor have they been disposed off unceremoniously. The fact that the players have taken up the challenge and shown the intent to return with more urge to do well is a good enough sign for Indian cricket and for the appeal of the ongoing Ranji season.

Yuvraj Singh’s return to the national side, if at all sends a signal; it is that age is not the criteria for selection. Under such circumstances, one has to see how the other senior players shape up in their new avatar.

Virender Sehwag

Sehwag has already made it clear that he is eyeing the berth in the middle order, which will have a vacancy once Sachin Tendulkar retires. What remains to be seen is whether he will curb his natural stroke play, much like Tendulkar did with the passage of time. For someone who revolutionised opening in Test cricket, it will be interesting to see what approach he brings in the middle-order. A naturally good player of spin bowling, Sehwag won’t have to worry much about his technique.

Gautam Gambhir

He will be in for a much tougher battle as his Delhi teammate Shikhar Dhawan has sealed one spot in the opening position. Murali Vijay is yet to prove his consistency at the top although the Tamil Nadu opener scored two centuries in the home series against Australia. Although, Sehwag’s backing out from challenging for the spot makes things a little easier, one wonders if selectors would be tempted to try out Rohit Sharma in that position.

Zaheer Khan

The left-arm pacer has returned fit from France and is looking hungry and good. With the poor form of the younger pacers in the national side a major issue of concern for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the Indian selectors, they might just be tempted to bring back the services of the senior pro. Apart from being a good bowler, he has also been credited for being a fine mentor to the younger bowlers in the side.

Harbhajan Singh

The Punjab off-spinner has started his Ranji campaign in fine fashion with a six-wicket haul on the first day of the season against Odisha. The performance came at the back of a successful Champions League T20 (CLT20) 2013 and the Indian Premier League (IPL) season. However, with too many spinners for a few one or two slots in the side, it will be a tough task ahead for Harbhajan. However, Ravichandran Ashwin’s has not been in good bowling form in the on-going India-Australia series which can leave the senior spinner in with a good chance.

Amid all this, it might be easy to overlook the performances of the younger lot in India’s premier domestic competition, but a few might spring up a few surprises like they do in every time. All said and done, this season of Ranji Trophy will make a good advertisement for cricket.

(Aayush Puthran is a reporter with CricketCountry. Mercurially jovial, pseudo pompous, perpetually curious and occasionally confused, he is always up for a light-hearted chat over a few cups of filter kaapi!)