CHENNAI: Kerala 70, Mumbai 114, Gujarat 127, Karnataka 166, Tamil Nadu 149. Uttarakhand 117.
These were totals made by some of the teams in the third round of Ranji Trophy matches which began on Wednesday. Not often does one come across a situation when so many teams are bundled out for below-par scores on the very first day. In eight matches featuring teams of Elite Group A and B, 85 wickets fell on Day 1.
Most of these wickets were taken by pacers. It suggests that most of these pitches had something for them. The other thing that emerges is, teams are going for outright wins instead of settling for first-innings lead.
Ever since the format was rejigged in 2018-19, the value of outright wins has increased. In the new format, 38 teams are divided into four groups. The competition is most intense in Group A and B, from which the top five on a combined table make it to the quarterfinals. This makes it more complicated than C and Plate, from which two and one make the cut. Punjab and Saurashtra have set early pace in A and B by winning their first two games. This might have prompted other teams to go for wins.
“Everybody is hurrying their cricket to earn points,” says former India pacer Lakshmipathy Balaji. “If you play looking at the table, the pitches will be result-oriented. Everybody is fighting for top place. The number of outright wins has increased because of the new points system. After nine matches, you won’t have a chance of qualifying if you get two wins and first-innings lead in the other games.”
Of late, there has been an emphasis on pitches that produce results. Of the 18 matches played before Wednesday in the Group A and B, only four ended in draws. In Group C, nine out of 10 matches saw results. This is eight in 10 in Plate. It shows that first-innings lead is no more the norm.
“In this system, matches are dependent on the type of wickets offered. Test cricket is about four innings, where a team needs 400 to put the opposition under pressure. If that lead is minimal, then both teams will have a chance of pushing for victory. But if runs come at a rate of 18 per wicket, then there is no contest between bat and ball. If you are going for outright wins in the beginning of the season, there is always a chance of losing. Then you have to play catch-up. The points system has led the teams to this kind of desperation,” adds Balaji.
Last season saw 49 of 91 matches from Group A, B and C produce results. It seems that may go up this season.
Day 2 of matches in Indore, Mumbai, Rajkot and Mysuru will start two hours late due to solar eclipse. In most places, these games begin at 9.30 am. But they will start at 11.30 am on Thursday. TN are playing against MP in Indore. Mumbai are facing Railways at home. Saurashtra are playing Uttar Pradesh in Rajkot, while Karnataka are up against HP in Mysuru. In Cuttack, the Odisha-Uttarakhand match will start post lunch.