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Ranji Trophy 2021-22: 3 teams that will start as favorites

Jaydev Unadkat led Saurashtra to their maiden Ranji Trophy title in 2019-20.
Jaydev Unadkat led Saurashtra to their maiden Ranji Trophy title in 2019-20.
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Sooryanarayanan Sesha

After a pandemic-inforced hiatus of close to two years, the Ranji Trophy is set to return later this month. The 2021-22 season of India's premier first-class competition will see 38 teams fight for the prestigious trophy.

This happens to be the 87th edition of the Ranji Trophy, which will begin on January 13. While six teams have been placed in each of the five Elite Groups, the remaining eight are part of the Plate Group. Matches will be held in select venues with teams placed in bio-secure bubbles owing to the COVID-19.

Saurashtra enter the Ranji Trophy 2021-22 as defending champions

Saurashtra, who clinched their maiden Ranji Trophy title back in 2019-20, will enter the upcoming edition as the defending champions. The final between Saurashtra and Bengal ended in a draw, with the former clinching the contest on account of taking a first-innings lead.

It will be intriguing to see which team manage to win the Ranji Trophy at the end of the season.

On that note, here are three teams who will start the Ranji Trophy 2021-22 as favorites:


#3 Karnataka

Karnataka are bound to start another Ranji Trophy season as one of the title contenders(Picture Credits: The Quint).
Karnataka are bound to start another Ranji Trophy season as one of the title contenders(Picture Credits: The Quint).

It is tough not to pit Karnataka as one of the premier contenders for the Ranji Trophy 2021-22. This, despite the fact that the team are in the midst of a transition in the bowling department.

The likes of Vidyadhar Patil and Vyshak Vijaykumar don't come with the requisite first-class experience, but their exploits in white-ball formats hold them in good stead. Much will hinge on Prasidh Krishna as he leads Karnataka's charge in the Ranji Trophy 2021-22 along with Ronit More.

That said, Prasidh is likely to make sporadic appearances owing to his involvement with India's ODI squad.

Prasidh Krishna (left) will be tasked with leading the Karnataka seam attack in the Ranji Trophy 2021-22.
Prasidh Krishna (left) will be tasked with leading the Karnataka seam attack in the Ranji Trophy 2021-22.

The rest of the side comes with abundant experience though, as the likes of Manish Pandey, Karun Nair, Krishnappa Gowtham, Ravikumar Samarth and Shreyas Gopal suggest. So much so that the absence of KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal for large parts of the season shouldn't come as a hindrance to the side.

Needless to say, Karnataka's consistent returns over the years in the red-ball format are likely to extend into the Ranji Trophy 2021-22. Can they add title number nine to their kitty this season? Only time will tell.


#2 Bengal

Bengal boast of abundant quality and skill in their ranks and will be a force to reckon with in the Ranji Trophy 2021-22 (Picture Credits: PTI via Outlook India).
Bengal boast of abundant quality and skill in their ranks and will be a force to reckon with in the Ranji Trophy 2021-22 (Picture Credits: PTI via Outlook India).

Bengal came agonizingly close to clinching their third Ranji Trophy title in 2019-20 and their first since 1989-90. However, the Abhimanyu Easwaran-led side conceded a first-innings lead to Saurashtra in the summit clash. Bengal have been a consistent force in domestic cricket over the last couple of seasons in particular. While they didn't proceed beyond the Group stages of the Vijay Hazare Trophy despite beating Karnataka, they were edged out only on the basis of net run-rate.

Bengal boast a well-balanced outfit, with Shahbaz Ahmed being their star man. Shahbaz had a breakout season in the 2019-20 edition of the Ranji Trophy, picking up 35 wickets in 11 games while also scoring 509 runs with the bat.

Shahbaz Ahmed will be Bengal's trump card in the Ranji Trophy 2021-22 (Picture Credits: Sandeep Shetty/Sportzpics for IPL).
Shahbaz Ahmed will be Bengal's trump card in the Ranji Trophy 2021-22 (Picture Credits: Sandeep Shetty/Sportzpics for IPL).

Apart from Easwaran, Sudip Chatterjee, Anustup Majumdar and Manoj Tiwary add invaluable experience to the batting front. An exciting bowling lineup comprises the likes of Mukesh Kumar, Ishan Porel, and Akash Deep.

With a lot of bases covered, it will be tough to look past Bengal in the upcoming Ranji Trophy season. A roadblock has come in the form of a number of positive COVID-19 cases breaking out within the side.

However, this Bengal team don't rely heavily on a couple of big names and should have ample reinforcements to go all the way.


#1 Saurashtra

Reigning champions Saurashtra enter the Ranji Trophy 2021-22 season as favorites to defend their title (Picture Credits: Twitter/Cheteshwar Pujara, via TOI).
Reigning champions Saurashtra enter the Ranji Trophy 2021-22 season as favorites to defend their title (Picture Credits: Twitter/Cheteshwar Pujara, via TOI).

Saurashtra's quest for a maiden Ranji Trophy title came to an end in 2019-20. That they managed to do so on their home ground, the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot, made it even sweeter.

Mind you, this Saurashtra unit have taken years to develop and assemble. In Jaydev Unadkat, they have a veteran campaigner and a shrewd tactician at the helm of affairs. Unadkat's form in first-class cricket has been exceptional over the years and he will once again shoulder the side's bowling responsibilities.

The young Chetan Sakariya and the experienced Dharmendrasinh Jadeja are also vital members of Saurashtra's bowling front. Batting-wise, the ageless duo of Sheldon Jackson and Arpit Vasavada lead the charge.

Cheteshwar Pujara might take part after the conclusion of the South African tour and could use this as an opportunity to bat his way into form. Youngsters Harvik Desai and Vishvaraj Jadeja complement the vast experience in the ranks of the Saurashtra batting lineup.

That said, Saurashtra are a side that bats deep and boasts game-changing all-rounders. Chirag Jani has been a consistent performer, while Prerak Mankad is enjoying a dream season, having left a massive impression on Vijay Hazare Trophy.

So, from the outset, there doesn't seem to be a box that Saurashtra has left unticked. This, despite the absence of Ravindra Jadeja, who will miss out due to a ligament tear. Saurashtra have also won the recently concluded Cooch Behar U19 Trophy, with a couple of talented youngsters also expected to feature in the premier Indian first-class tournament.

With so many positives for Saurashtra ahead of the Ranji Trophy 2021-22 season, can they do what Karnataka and Vidarbha have done over the last decade and pull off back-to-back title triumphs? We just have to wait and watch.


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Q. Can Saurashtra defend their Ranji Trophy title this season?

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Edited by Samya Majumdar
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