Ranji Trophy 2019-20 | A tournament fighting to stay relevant

Vidarbha will look to make it three-in-a-row, while Karnataka hopes to create history

Relevance and context. These are the oft-used terms when it comes to discussing the fate of Test cricket in an era of instant results.

When it comes to the 86th Ranji Trophy, which starts on Monday with 19 matches scheduled at various nooks and corners of the country in the opening league round, one can’t help but wonder whether the ‘biggest edition’ — in terms of number of teams — may also struggle to find the relevance and context over the next three months.

With the emergence of multiple India-A tours, the Ranji Trophy’s role in India Test selection has diminished.

During the week-long gap between the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the Ranji Trophy, most Ranji teams saw Indian Premier League aspirants (IPL) skip training for pre-auction trials organised by virtually all the franchises.

The fact that India’s international fixtures are so dominated by white-ball cricket in 2020 only adds to the pressure players will face to make an impact.

India is not scheduled to play a Test at home until February 2021. Besides, after the two Tests in New Zealand in February-March, Virat Kohli’s men could well wear whites in Australia only in November.

The Ranji Trophy this time around will also be an opportunity to stake claim on the soon-to-be-introduced contracts for domestic cricketers.

Hat-trick or treble?

Despite the odds, cricket connoisseurs will hope either for a rare hat-trick or the first treble in the history of domestic cricket in March. No team except Bombay — which won 15 successive editions from 1958-59 to 1972-73 — has won three titles in a row.

Vidarbha, with captain Faiz Fazal and coach Chandrakant Pandit at the helm, is hoping to join the domestic powerhouse to achieve the rare feat. With the core of the team having virtually remained the same for the third successive season, Vidarbha can well stamp its supremacy on the coveted trophy yet again.

The biggest challenge Vidarbha will face will be from Karnataka. The southern giant has already maintained a clean record, having swept the white-ball season with the Vijay Hazare Trophy and the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy triumphs. It will hope to become the first team to complete the treble of inter-State titles in a season by winning the Ranji.

Only if either of these teams emerge champion in March, will the Ranji Trophy’s 86th edition not lack relevance and context in a way.

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