Mumbai, Oct. 31 -- Experts batting for the health of domestic cricket, who insist that international stars must be available, will be delighted to see almost the entire India line-up featuring in Ranji Trophy at the start of the season. But their participation in no way indicates a new direction the domestic game is taking.
It has nothing to do with the cricket board showing vision either. The heavyweights will be seen in action for their state sides as there are no international matches scheduled and the squad to face England in the first Test will be selected on November 5, the last day of the first-round matches.
The India players' participation is likely to end with the first two games as their interest is directly linked to the England series starting on November 15.
Despite this, there will be a lot of interest in Ranji Trophy this season. These are desperate times for Indian cricket and the talent pool is not exactly brimming to throw up apt replacements for Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
Barring Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and R Ashwin, it can't be said with certainty that the players who did duty in the last Test against New Zealand will last the long home season.
For some time now, there has been a debate about whether Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are the best men to face the new ball. The two have an impressive record, but have been inconsistent over the last two seasons. The pressure is on the Delhi openers as the new national selectors will weigh their back-up options. Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay have started the domestic season with a bang and Ranji Trophy will be another opportunity for them to impress the selectors.
While the India No 6 spot in Tests is up for grabs, all eyes will be on Sachin Tendulkar, who will turn out for Mumbai to get into some rhythm. The selectors have to start looking for options for the No 4 spot in preparation for the post-Tendulkar era.
Only one out of Yuvraj Singh, Manoj Tiwary, Suresh Raina and S Badrinath will get the No 6 spot, the rest will have to take the Ranji route to push their claims. Rohit Sharma has been left behind in the race and will have to do the hard yards by playing for Mumbai again.
It's a crucial tournament for Sharma's Mumbai teammate, Ajinkya Rahane, too. He's not got the big runs consistently and his Ranji showing will be important to consolidate his position in the India squad.
Buoyed by his performances in county cricket, Harbhajan Singh will be eagerly to play for Punjab as this Ranji season could be a make-or-break affair for him.
The one thing Surendra Bhave, whose term as national selector ended last month, is keenly looking forward to this season is the fitness of the fast bowling talent. "It's an interesting season, let's see if we can find a couple of genuine spinners and fit fast bowlers," Bhave said.
"A couple of fast bowlers have been identified, what we need to see is them playing half a Ranji season and remaining fit for at least one year. Showing consistent fitness for an entire season is what I am looking for."
In the backdrop of the humiliation in England and Australia, critics will be keenly watching whether the diktat to have sporting tracks in the premier domestic event is followed. "It will be important that the directive to have sporting tracks is followed. Our batting is evolving and playing on good wickets, which suit fast bowlers, will help identify young batsmen who can deliver, at home or abroad," he added.
The onus is on the board to ensure ideal playing conditions. It will show whether the lessons of the last season have been learnt or this Ranji season will be like any other.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.