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Cricket news - What's in store in the 86th edition of the Ranji Trophy

Can Rahane's presence boost Mumbai?

Can Rahane's presence boost Mumbai?

India's premier domestic competition will get underway on Monday (December 9) for the 86th time in its rich history. The BCCI has opted to stick to the same format as last year with the knockouts set to commence by the end of February. The top five teams from Group A and Group B combined will progress to the knockouts with the top two from Group C and the top team from the plate group joining them. With some of India's regulars expected to feature this time, we could well in store for a very competitive tournament in the league stage.

What has changed this time?

For starters, the schedule has seen a tweak. After five years, the Ranji Trophy is being staged after the conclusion of the 50-over domestic competition. The BCCI this time ensured the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament and the Vijay Hazare Trophy were staged ahead of the four-day competition to ensure the IPL franchises have a look at the domestic players ahead of the auction. But what sort of a bearing will the scheduling have now? Games scheduled up north might witness curtailed sessions because of the winter especially by the end of the year and in January 2020. There's also a new team on the block. Chandigarh will be the 38th team in the tournament and they will be playing in the Plate Group.

What are the incentives?

With the IPL auction also happening on the 19th of December, the tournament will have no significance in terms of players making a mark immediately. Even the ones doing well will have to keep waiting with the Indian Test side already on top of their game. Over the next 10 months, India are scheduled to play just a couple of Tests for now and so that would mean the closest the top performers can get to is the A side. With not many young tweakers making an impression in the domestic circuit in recent years, spinners could get excited at the prospect of challenging Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

Players to watch out for

Devdutt Padikkal - Top run-getter in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, top run-getter in the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament, Devdutt Padikkal is already making waves and he is just 19 years old. Can he translate this form in the longer format and help Karnataka regain the Ranji title?

Vijay Shankar - Fast-tracked into the ODI side just ahead of the World Cup for the coveted number 4 slot, Vijay Shankar finds himself out of reckoning from the national setup post the tournament in England. With Hardik Pandya still out injured and India opting to move past Vijay in limited-overs cricket, the 28-year-old can realistically only target a Test spot for now.

Prithvi Shaw - Almost two years ago, Shaw led India to the Under-19 World Cup title and then scored a century on Test debut a few months later. The youngster was touted as the next big thing in Indian cricket before the floundering career came to a screeching halt as a result of a suspension. Shaw did make a very good comeback in the Syed Mushtaq Ali but having lost his Test spot now, the right-hander will be keen to make a huge impression to get his career back on track.

Shubman Gill - What will Gill be going through right now? Having been a part of the Test squad in the last couple of series, Gill has only managed to warm the benches. And now, he has to go through it all once again in the domestic circuit to keep pushing. A small bad phase will see him miss out on the plane to New Zealand.

Rajneesh Gurbani - He hit the headlines during the 2017-18 season especially in the knockout phase helping Vidarbha clinch the title but the following year, things went downhill. Vidarbha still managed to retain the title despite Gurbani's lowkey performances but the pacer will have a point to prove this time to make sure 2017-18 wasn't a one-off.

Will the big names participate this time?

Lack of big names over the recent years have always taken the sheen out of the tournament a bit. But this time, some of the Test specialists are going to be available for the major part of the league phase. Ajinkya Rahane for Mumbai, Ravichandran Ashwin for Tamil Nadu, Mayank Agarwal for Karnataka, Hanuma Vihari for Andhra Pradesh and Cheteshwar Pujara for Saurashtra are all expected to play most of the games. Pacers Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav's workloads will be managed but with both the seamers not considered for white-ball cricket, they will feature in most rounds.

Who are the favourites?

The usual suspects Mumbai, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are expected to challenge for the title. Quite interestingly, all three teams are paired together in the same group and even a little slip will see them miss out on a spot in the knockout phase. Mumbai, the competition's most successful side, haven't won the title in three years and this time even though they will have Rahane's services for the most part of the league stage, Shreyas Iyer's void will have to be filled.

Karnataka have secured the domestic double beating Tamil Nadu on both occasions in the final and will be gunning for a treble. KL Rahul's availability might be available only for a few games but in Agarwal, Manish Pandey and Karun Nair, their batting looks strong as always. Tamil Nadu will welcome back veteran Murali Vijay and Ashwin's presence will be a massive boost. But how about Vidarbha? Can they overpower the big boys and secure the title for the third season in a row? Faiz Fazal and his boys certainly will fancy their chances to make it to the knockouts and from thereon, anything is possible.

Teams

Group A - Andhra, Bengal, Delhi, Gujarat, Hyderabad, Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan, Vidarbha

Group B - Baroda, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Mumbai, Railways, Saurashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh

Group C- Assam, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha, Services, Tripura, Uttarakhand

Plate Group - Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Chandigarh, Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Puducherry, Sikkim

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