Punjab will have to begin this Ranji Trophy season without Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh in the lead as both of them won’t be a part of the opening game against Himachal. Meanwhile, both Cheteshwar Puajra and Ravindra Jadeja will also not be part of Saurashtra squad owing to the national duty.
Punjab had to struggle last season and failed to qualify for the Ranji Trophy knockout stage. However, the team is determined to make amends this season as they are aiming to secure at least a quarterfinal berth. Former India wicketkeeper, Ajay Ratra has been appointed as the new coach of the side and they will be opening their campaign against Himachal Pradesh in their opening Group D game, which is scheduled to be started on Friday.
The Punjab Cricket Association initially named Harbhajan Singh as the captain but owing to his unavailability for the first few games, it was then handed over to Yuvraj Singh. However, even Yuvraj has pulled out of the opening game, which left the option of opening batsman Jiwanjot Singh leading the team.
“Yuvraj has been spending a lot of time with the boys in the nets and giving me useful inputs. We had a good weeklong camp preparatory. Punjab did not do well last season, but that is in the past,” said Ajay Ratra to Hindustan Times.
“Punjab is a talented bunch and their skills should be used in an apt manner. Once Harbhajan and Yuvraj join the squad, Punjab will be a power-packed side along with key players like Jiwanjot Singh, Manan Vohra, Manpreet Gony, Gurkeerat Singh Mann. Some will be making their Ranji debuts soon.”
Punjab squad also have some first-timers as well like Shubman Gill (18), Abhishek Sharma (17), Abhishek Gupta (27), Raghu Sharma (24) and Anmolpreet Singh (19), however, the performance of the seniors will matter.
“I’ve spoken to Harbhajan and he will be soon available. We will assess his match-fitness ahead of the games. He will be around the team even if he is not playing the initial games,” said Ratra.
Yuvraj will be missing the opening game against Himachal since he will be at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore for a BCCI fitness test. Also, batsman Mandeep Singh will miss the entire season as he underwent a back surgery in August. Speedster Siddarth Kaul will miss the first two matches as well as he will be a playing for India ‘A’ against New Zealand ‘A’ in Visakhapatnam in a five-match one-day series.
Meanwhile, the Saurashtra Cricket Association announced a 17-member squad for the first three Ranji Trophy matches today and both the key players, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja are not in the squad since they will be playing for the national side against the visiting New Zealand team in the upcoming Test series.
“Any team wants to have these two players (Pujara and Jadeja) and the side will definitely miss their services. But we have some other new players, who have the ability to deliver their best,” said head coach Sitanshu Kotak.
Jaydev Shah will lead the Saurashtra team and the first game against Haryana will be held on October 6 in Lahli. The first timers in the Saurashtra squad for the tournament are Punjab’s Amitoze Singh, Kushang Patel from Gujarat and Maharashtra’s Sunil Yadav.
Apart from the first timers, Sheldon Jackson, Sagar Jogiyani, Avi Barot, Arpit Vasavada, Jaydev Unadkat, Dharmendra Jadeja, Samarth Vyas, Hardik Rathod, Vandit Jivrajani, Shaurya Sanandiya, Mohsin Dodiya, Deepak Puniya, and Chirag Jani are also a part of the squad.
Speedster Mohammed Shami will also be a part of Bengal Ranji Team as for their Group D match against Services. Shami has been released from the Indian T20 squad for the Australia series and would be Bengal's key player on a placid Airforce ground track.