Prashant Chopra's triple century against Punjab was the biggest highlight of the first round. © BCCI

Prashant Chopra’s triple century against Punjab was the biggest highlight of the first round. © BCCI

Earlier this week, the 84th edition of Ranji Trophy, the most awaited yearly first-class tournament in India, got underway in the shadow of the national team’s remarkable feats against Australia in limited-overs contests at home. As a result, most of the country’s cricket aficionados had their attention pointed at Virat Kohli and Co. while 28 teams quietly prepared to set their campaign rolling in the crucial three-month competition.

The Buildup to the season

The first impression, to say the least, was quite impressive. Of the 24 teams that played in the first round, only three – Saurashtra, Kerala and Railways – managed to bag outright wins, but there was no shortage of excitement in the way some of the drawn encounters were fought.

The numbers that mattered 

Prashant Chopra’s 338 off 363, Himachal Pradesh v Punjab
Twitter says Prashant Chopra, the young opening batsman from Solan, has been on the social media platform since 2012, but it can safely be assumed that he wouldn’t have ever experienced as many notifications as he did since registering the tenth highest individual score in the history of Ranji Trophy.

Himachal rode on his effort to declare their first innings on 729 for 8 – their highest ever total in the tournament – but Punjab, who had never conceded a 700-plus total before this, responded strongly with 601 in their first innings before reducing their opponents to 145 for 6 in their second dig.

Prashant’s knock however, was the biggest highlight of Round One.

Prashant was on 271 off 289 balls at stumps on the first day.
– That’s the most number of runs scored by a batsman on the first day of a first-class match in India. He went past Syed Wazir Ali, who scored an unbeaten 268 for Indian University Occasionals against a Viceroy’s XI side in 1935 – the then highest individual score in first-class cricket in India.

– Overall, it ranked second in the list of most runs scored by a batsman in a single day in Ranji history, only behind Bhausaheb Nimbalkar‘s record of 277 runs for Maharashtra against Kathiawar in 1948-49. Nimbalkar had finished unbeaten on 443 – the highest individual score in the history of first-class cricket in the country till date.

Prashant got to the milestone on his 25th birthday
.
– He is the third person to score a first-class triple ton on his birthday after Colin Cowdrey (December 24, 1962) and Raman Lamba (January 2, 1995).

Abhishek Gupta’s 202 off 203, Himachal Pradesh v Punjab
Once Himachal Pradesh declared, Punjab fought back with Abhishek Gupta, batting at No. 7, smashing 202. Abhishek hit 24 fours and five sixes to become the ninth batsman to score a double century on his Ranji debut.

Abhishek is now part of the unique club alongside George Abell (Northern India), Budhi Kunderan (Railways), Gundappa Viswanath (Mysore), Amol Muzumdar (Bombay), Anshuman Pandey (Madhya Pradesh), Manpreet Juneja (Gujarat), Jiwanjot Singh (Punjab), and Vijay Zol (Maharashtra).

Railways beat Uttar Pradesh by defending a tiny target of 94
– Only one team (Bihar) has defended a lower target in first-class cricket in India. Delhi, chasing 78, were bowled out for 48 back in 1949.

Yusuf Pathan’s twin tons fail to rescue Baroda v Madhya Pradesh
With Baroda struggling in response to Madhya Pradesh’s first-innings total of 551 for 8 declared, Yusuf partnered his brother Irfan Pathan to diffuse the pressure with an aggressive century in Indore. With wickets falling at the other end, Baroda were still made to follow on, and once again, it was only Yusuf who the Madhya Pradesh bowlers failed to restrict among the batsmen. The allrounder hit 136, this time teaming up with Atit Sheth for a partnership of 218 – the highest eighth-wicket partnership for Baroda in history.

Yusuf became only the sixth Baroda batsman to score two tons in a match. His century in the first innings, in fact, was his first since he scored an unbeaten 104 against Madhya Pradesh in 2013-14.

Sheth’s knock of 109 is the highest score by a Baroda batsman batting at No. 9. Incidentally, the record was previously held by Yusuf (92 not out v Maharashtra in 2004-05.)

Despite the impressive numbers, Madhya Pradesh romped to an easy eight-wicket win.

Devendra Bundela’s maiden 99
Bundela has been around for a long, long time. To understand this better, let this sink in: Of his teammates, except Naman Ojha, no one had even crossed the age of ten when Bundela made his first-class debut (in 1995-96).

So when the veteran fell one run short of his 27th first-class hundred against Baroda, it was hard to believe that it was actually the first time he had gotten out on 99 in his career!

India players who led for the first time

Cheteshwar Pujara (Saurashtra) 
Playing in the 55th first-class match, Pujara stood-in for the first time in place of Jaydev Shah, the regular captain, who got married on October 5. Jaydev is expected to be back for Saurashtra’s next match, against Jammu and Kashmir in Rajkot from October 14.

Ishant Sharma (Delhi)
Ishant, who has 111 first-class matches under his belt, was named captain for the first time this year after Gautam Gambhir stepped down from the position last month. Ishant is expected to lead Delhi for the entire season, unless he is picked in the Indian Test squad for the three matches against Sri Lanka in December.

R Ashwin’s first Ranji Trophy game in five years
The last time Ashwin’s name appeared on the team list (Tamil Nadu v Odisha, November 2012), he did not even get a chance to bowl or bat, with rain washing out two days of play in Cuttack. That, unfortunately, was the only match he was available for in that season.

Injury Corner 
M Vijay twisted his ankle while batting on the third day of Tamil Nadu’s match against Andhra. Vijay missed the Bangalore Test against Australia and India’s tour of Sri Lanka because of a wrist injury. An injury on his left shoulder during the final Test against England in Chennai had forced him to sit out for a month earlier on.

Vijay did however return to bat on the final day just before Tamil Nadu declared their second innings, scoring 55 off 93 deliveries.

The curious case of Mithun Manhas
Manhas, who assumed the dual role of captain and coach for Jammu and Kashmir last year, gave the side’s first match of the season (against Rajasthan) a miss by refusing to travel to Jaipur. Manhas was reportedly upset with the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) handing over the leadership responsibilities to Parvez Rasool, and apparently choosing to have Manhas only as a coach.

Jammu and Kashmir drew the match, with Rasool leading the side, and Abdul Qayoom, the bowling coach, temporarily operating as the full-time coach.

Forgettable debuts for first-time venues
The Gymkhana Ground in Secunderabad and Vikas Cricket Ground in the outskirts of Bhubaneshwar were all set to host their respective maiden Ranji Trophy games in this round, but a combination of incessant rain, bad light and poor ground conditions at both the venues resulted in a forgettable four days.

While the Hyderabad v Maharashtra game in Secunderabad was abandoned without a ball bowled, Odisha and Tripura managed only a little bit of action towards the fag end of the third day and through the fourth and final day.

Questions raised over fair-play
The match between Delhi and Assam at Feroz Shah Kotla got tantalisingly close to a potential win for the hosts, but a sluggish final hour forced a draw with bad light also coming into play. Requiring 79 off the last 14 overs, Delhi could only reach 49 for 2 with Assam bowling just eight overs before it turned too dark.

At the end of the match, KP Bhaskar, the Delhi coach, alleged that Assam had purposely slowed the game down – a claim that was dismissed by Lalchand Rajput, the Assam coach, who argued that Delhi, who had bowled with a slow over rate in the second innings, only had themselves to blame for the situation.

List of debutants 

Team Player
Assam Rahul Singh, Left-arm spinner
Delhi Anuj Rawat, Wicketkeeper/Middle-order batsman
Himachal Pradesh Priyanshu Khanduri, Opening batsman
Punjab Abhishek Gupta, Wicketkeeper/Middle-order batsman
Abhishek Sharma, Left-arm spinner 
Anmolpreet Singh, Middle-order batsman
Madhya Pradesh Waseem Ahmed, Opening batsman
Baroda Lukman Meriwala, Left-arm pacer
Rajasthan Khaleel Ahmed, Left-arm pacer
Tajinder Singh, Offspinner
Services Navneet Singh, Opening batsman
Arun Bamal, Left-arm spinner
Bengal Boddupalli Amit, Right-arm pacer
Kanishk Seth, Left-arm pacer
Andhra Prithvi Raj, Left-arm pacer
Shoaib Khan, Offspinner
Kerala Ponnam Rahul, Opening batsman
Jharkhand Nazim Siddiqui, Opening batsman
Uttar Pradesh Zeeshan Ansari, Legspinner
Kartik Tyagi, Right-arm pacer

Note: Goa, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Tripura, Haryana, Saurashtra, Railways and Jammu and Kashmir did not field any debutants. Also, with the match between Maharashtra and Hyderabad never getting underway, the playing XIs were not revealed, so no players from either side feature in the list above.

Social Media Watch
Winners Celebrate
KERALA (beat Jharkhand by nine wickets in Thiruvananthapuram)

Saurashtra (beat Haryana by an innings and 31 runs in Rohtak)

Railways (beat Uttar Pradesh by 21 runs)

Other Tweets that caught our eye

Anureet Singh was one of the chief architects of Railways’s emphatic winSuresh Raina, the Uttar Pradesh captain, would have been distraught with his side suffering the dramatic collapse, but he was sweet enough not to turn down a post-match selfie request from Anureet and his teammates.

Ashok Dinda hardly makes the news for his batting. But a hurricane 55 off 25 balls (scored at a whopping strike rate of 220.00) from the No. 11 in the first innings against Services made everyone stop and take notice. Dinda hit eight fours and three sixes in his knock.

After all the drama, Pragyan Ojha finally got an NOC from Bengal to play for Hyderabad. Ojha’s exit paved the way for Pradipto Pramanik, the uncapped left-arm spinner, to enter the 16-man squad.

The youngster, who is yet to make his debut, celebrated his 19th birthday during the course of Bengal’s opening match against Services.

Trendsetters
Highest match aggregate: Himachal Pradesh v Punjab in Dharamshala (1,475)
Highest innings total: Himachal Pradesh – 729 for 8 declared (v Punjab)
Highest run-getter: Prashant Chopra – 360 runs
Highest wicket-taker: Jalaj Saxena – 11 wickets
Highest individual score: Prashant Chopra (338 off 363 balls v Punjab)
Best bowling figures in an innings: Abu Nechim (7 for 68 for Assam v Delhi)
Best bowling figures in a match: Jalaj Saxena (11 for 77 for Kerala v Jharkhand)
Most dismissals by a wicketkeeper: Snell Patell – 6 (Catches: 6, Stumpings: 0)
Highest partnership: Prashant Chopra and Paras Dogra: 264 (for the third-wicket for Himachal Pradesh v Punjab)
Total bonus-point wins: 1
Total three-day finishes: 3
Total two-day finishes: 0