Nothing divides opinion like stringing together a ‘Flop XI’ for a tournament. Arguments with colleagues can even make you pull your hair out in frustration. Thus after exchanging several verbal blows, we, here at SportsCafe, have collated together the underwhelming XI of the 2019/20 Ranji season.
We did, initially, plan to have a round-table discussion for the same, but being good responsible citizens, we decided to self-isolate ourselves and have the discussion over a Skype call. After several hours of exhaustive, repetitive arguments made by every member present in the call, we finally zeroed in on what we ‘unanimously’ felt was the most disappointing XI from the 2019/20 Ranji Season.
Abhimanyu Easwaran is the living example of how cruel sport can be. After his extraordinary 2018/19 Ranji campaign - where he scored 861 runs at an average over 95 - the opener was bestowed with the honour of Bengal captaincy and was, at the start of the season, inches away from breaking into the Indian team. Which is the reason as to why it is hard to swallow the fact that he, of all people, pulled off a season that he did - 258 runs in 17 innings at an average of 17.20 with just one fifty-plus score. It’s the kind of season that even a body double of his would have bettered. How he would love to completely erase this season from existence.
Could Easwaran’s lack of form with the bat have been contagious? That’s the only logical reason I could think of to justify Panchal’s horrid season. A 457-run campaign - at an average under 29 with just two fifty-plus scores - is simply disappointing for someone of Panchal’s stature, especially given his experience. Like Easwaran, he, too, was a prime contender to break into the Test side - no one in India has scored as many first-class runs as him in the last 4 seasons - but with this campaign of his, the Gujarat opener has ensured that the India call-up is nothing but a distant dream now.
The limited-overs leg of this domestic season threatened the realization of the long-awaited ‘breakthrough campaign’ for Baba Aparajith, but his Ranji exploits have yet again zooted him back to square one. Given Aparajith was the only senior batsman who stayed fit and featured in every match for Tamil Nadu, all that was needed from him was a consistent campaign where he piled on the runs just like he did in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, but his 292-run campaign (averaging 29.20) instead is a cascade of disappointment. And so the wait continues.
It was not long ago that Siddesh Lad was leading the Mumbai side, bailing them out of trouble with the bat and stringing match-winning partnerships with the lower-order. He now finds himself two or three bad performances away from being booted out of the team. He has himself to blame for, though, as it is criminal to come out of a campaign averaging 17.40. In fact, amongst all Mumbai players who scored a minimum of 50 runs, Lad sported the worst average. He was, in fact, even bettered by Tushar Deshpande and Bhupen Lalwani. He’s a good Lad no doubt, but clearly, he needs to get back to the drawing board.
I do have some sympathy for Karun Nair, for he was treated unfairly by the Indian team management, but he is simply not helping his own cause by underperforming season after season. A 366-run campaign averaging 26.14 is bad enough, but it becomes worse when you consider the fact that last year, he averaged just 24.88. He is basically shutting the door to re-enter the Indian team all by himself, with his bat doing all the necessary PR stuff for the same.
There are two reasons why seasoned veterans take a step backwards and decide to play in the plate - to either enhance their career statistics or to serve as a guiding light for the lower-tier players. As of this moment, it remains unclear as to why Binny did what he did i.e.move to Nagaland. Given that he’s an Indian international, Binny’s returns are outrageously bad considering he played literally against amateurs - he averaged 42 with the bat and 27 with the ball. These may seem like decent numbers, but you will need to look around what some of the ‘pros’ did in the plate division to get a better perspective. All you can do is hope Binny pulls up his socks and does a better job for his team the following season.
A 21-year-old Ajay Rohera was all over the newspapers last season when he registered the highest ever first-class score on debut for an Indian - 267* against Hyderabad in Indore. But since then, his career has gone into an irrecoverable downward spiral and his 2019/20 campaign - where he managed just 288 runs at an average of 24 - is a testament to the same. In fact, post that unbeaten 267, he has just managed 295 runs in the next 14 at an average just over 21. By now, he’d have realized that cricket is not quite the fairytale, after all.
Red-ball cricket is not quite the forte of Shreyas Gopal, but he did enter this season on the back of an extremely successful 2018/19 campaign where he was Karnataka’s primary strike weapon. But 7 wickets in 13 innings at an average close to 78 are numbers that even a part-timer wouldn’t want next to his name, and, till date, it’s baffling as to how Gopal pulled off a season like this. There were nothing wrong with the surfaces Karnataka played in, too, for his partner-in-crime Krishnappa Gowtham accounted for 34 scalps in just 6 matches at an average under 19. Perhaps Gopal went into IPL mode a bit too early for his own liking.
It was only yesterday that Harbhajan Singh batted for Akshay Wakhare’s selection in the national team, but I doubt if he would get anywhere close to national selection after having scalped just 16 wickets all season at an average over 38. Wakhare has been the heartbeat of the Vidarbha side - in their two title-winning campaigns, he accounted for a total of 68 wickets - and given that he severely underperformed this season, it is unsurprising as to why Vidarbha failed to make the knockouts. Unlike a fair few others on this list, age and time are unfortunately not on his side.
As mentioned above, the only thing Tushar Deshpande can be happy about is that he averaged more than Siddhesh Lad with the bat. As, with the ball, his numbers were nothing short of appalling - 12 wickets in 10 innings at an average of 38.58. Given Dhawal Kulkarni was injured and Shardul Thakur was not present for two-thirds of the season, Deshpande had a golden opportunity to well and truly stamp his place in the Mumbai XI, but you would now imagine that he has completely blown that chance.
Nothing more than Umesh Yadav’s performance sums up Vidarbha’s 2019/20 campaign. You’ve an Indian national quick, who has been a literal god in home conditions, play 5 matches for you and what happens? He gets outbowled by Aditya Thakare, Yash Thakur and Rajneesh Gurbani. It does not ring alarm bells by any means, but Umesh would be the first person to admit that he let his team down with his performances. 13 wickets in the season at an average close to 35 for an international bowler in the Ranji Trophy is simply not good enough.
Rinku Singh (Twelfth man)
Third season syndrome? Exposed against better bowling? Bowlers exploiting his vulnerabilities? Call it what you want, but Rinku Singh, this season, looked like a novice in the midst of professionals. His numbers - 362 runs at an average of 36.20 - stack up better than the batsmen above, but clearly, there is a glaring flaw in his game - that was exposed this season - which needs to be addressed for him to stay intact at this level. An utterly disappointing campaign given what he’d shown us last season - close to a 1000 runs at an average over 100.
The underwhelming XI of the 2019/20 Ranji Trophy season:
Abhimanyu Easwaran (c), Priyank Panchal, Baba Aparajith, Siddesh Lad, Karun Nair, Stuart Binny, Ajay Rohera (wk), Shreyas Gopal, Akshay Wakhare, Tushar Deshpande, Umesh Yadav, Rinku Singh (12th man)