Six months after the start of the domestic season in India with the Duleep Trophy tournament, another significant cricket event of comparable importance awaits us – the Ranji Trophy. 38 teams will take part in it, divided into two leagues: Elite and Plate. The Ranji season, starting on January 5, will last for ten weeks. The Elite final is scheduled for March 10, while the Plate final will take place on February 17.
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The tournament is divided into two categories of teams to ensure high quality competition. Elite features 32 teams, divided into four groups of eight. Each team plays seven matches, and the top two from each group advance to the quarter-finals. The two least successful teams from the four groups will be relegated, taking into account both points and odds. The Plate competition features six teams who will play one match against each other. The top four will advance to the playoffs, and the finalists will advance to the Elite division for the following season.
This season, Hyderabad, which suffered six losses from seven matches in 2022-23, joined Nagaland in the list of relegated teams. The rest in the Plate category are Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Sikkim. Bihar and Manipur, which competed in last season’s Plate final, have moved up the rankings this time.
Group A features defending champions Saurashtra, two-time winners Vidarbha, Vijay Hazare Trophy winners Haryana and Services and other strong contenders. 41-time winners Mumbai are in Group B, which also includes Andhra, Assam and Bengal, who were second last season. Karnataka, which has won eight titles, is competing in Group C along with Tamil Nadu and Punjab, winners of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Delhi, which has fielded a 26-player squad, represents Group D after some intriguing moments during the association’s preparations.
Reflection on the previous season provides interesting moments. The final of the 2019-20 season was a déjà vu as Saurashtra once again defeated Bengal to claim their second Ranji crown under captain Jaydev Unadkat, whose performance was decisive in the final. However, the defeat was a hard lesson for Bengal, especially for Manoj Tiwari. Immediately after the season, he announced his retirement, but then suddenly decided to return for another season. Tiwari is set to spend his final season as captain and is hoping to end it with a win. The last time Bengal topped the Ranji Trophy was way back in 1989-90.”
International stars on the list include players like Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, who play for Mumbai and Saurashtra respectively. Hanuma Vihari and Mayank Agarwal, the top performers in the 2022-23 season, will lead Andhra and Karnataka respectively.
Kuldeep Yadav and Rinku Singh will return to the squads depending on national commitments. Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav will take part in the matches for Delhi and Vidarbha. In the Plate group, Tilak Varma will lead Hyderabad when available.
Prithvi Shaw is still recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury after undergoing surgery. He has not featured in a game since, starting with a brief spell in Northamptonshire last year. He will probably miss the first three rounds. Dinesh Karthik, who led TN in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, is likely to be focused on the IPL and has no plans to participate in the championship. Harshal Patel, Haryana’s key player in Vijay Hazare, will miss at least the first two matches due to a thigh problem. Karnataka’s K Gowtham has been dropped as the selectors have decided to revamp the squad with attacking spin for the future.