When the BCCI selectors named India’s most recent Test squad for the upcoming two-match series versus Sri Lanka at home, four senior players’ names were missing: that of Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Ishant Sharma and Wriddhiman Saha.
Asked about the axing of senior batsmen Pujara and Rahane, selection committee chairman Chetan Sharma said that the decision was taken in order to give them a chance to rediscover their form in domestic cricket. That is, the ongoing 2022 Ranji Trophy season that recently began and has just completed two rounds.
“We’ve told them that we are not considering them for the two Tests against Sri Lanka but the door is absolutely open for them. We told them to go and play Ranji Trophy matches. We will use the series to try others,” Sharma told a virtual news conference.
While Saha has opted out of the Ranji Trophy in order to be with his wife who recently recovered from a bout of dengue, the trio of Pujara, Rahane and Ishant each played for their respective domestic teams in India’s premier first-class competition. So far three rounds of the Ranji Trophy have been played, and the competition will now resume in June (only Jharkhand and Nagaland will play the preliminary quarter-final from March 12-16). Here’s a look at how Pujara, Rahane and Ishant have fared.
Dropped from India’s Test squad after he averaged 24.30 over the past 12 months – and having not scored a century since January 2019 – Pujara turned out for defending champions Saurashtra in rounds one and two, with mixed results. He began with a four-ball duck and and 91 from 83 deliveries in a drawn with Mumbai, and then against Odisha he managed just 8 out of Saurashtra’s only innings of 501.
In round three, Pujara got scores of 28 and 64* off 62 balls, with three fours and three sixes, in a huge Saurashtra win over Goa. This took his season tally to 191 runs from five innings, average 47.75.
In the aforementioned Mumbai vs Saurashtra game in round one of the Ranji Trophy, Rahane made 129 to help revive his team from 44/3. Against Goa in round two, he was out for 0 off his third ball, lbw to right-arm pacer Lakshay Garg, and then rebounded with 56 from 148 balls to help his team to a victory.
A third duck, this one off his first ball faced, followed in Mumbai’s first innings of 532/9 declared against Odisha, sandwiched right between centuries to Armaan Jaffer (125) and Sarfaraz Khan (165). After four innings, Rahane averages 46.25 for Mumbai this Ranji Trophy season.
Ishant, at the age of 33, is at the crossroads. Having revived his Test career dramatically since 2018, Ishant – who made his Test debut in 2007 – found himself in and out of India’s XI last year as niggles and middling form dogged his progress. Having missed the tour of Australia due to injury, Ishant played in just one of four home Tests with England in March of 2021 – his first in over a year – and duly became the third Indian fast bowler after Kapil Dev and Zaheer Khan to take 300 wickets.
He again picked up a niggle, and then for the inaugural ICC World Test Championship final last summer in Southampton, as soon as he was fit his experience was favoured over Mohammed Siraj. He started the Test poorly, soared back with three wickets and then hobbled off without finishing his seventh over on the last day.
Ishant then played in two of four Tests against England in England, taking five wickets in a famous win at Lord’s and going wicketless as India subsided at Headingley. His next appearance was a wicketless Test match in Kanpur in November, and Ishant was then overlooked for four successive matches which spanned the tour of South Africa as well, where he was deemed surplus once Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Shardul Thakur returned.
Ishant did not play in Delhi’s opening Ranji Trophy match. In the second, he bowled only four overs out of the 70 it took to dismiss Jharkhand for 251. In Jharkand’s second innings, Ishant had figures of 9-2-29-1 with the wicket of one-down batsman Utkarsh Singh, bowled first ball. In round three, Ishant bowled ten wicketless overs for 58 runs (with two maidens) in Chhattisgarh’s only innings of 482/9 declared. This means Ishant has managed one wicket in 23 overs for an average of 101.