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Explained: Why is J&K losing badly in Ranji Trophy and what needs to be changed

FeatureExplained: Why is J&K losing badly in Ranji Trophy and what needs to be changed

A spin paradise Motera wicket, covered under red soil with visible patches before a ball is bowled on it! In walks J&K skipper Shubham Pundir for toss. He looks unmoved despite the team having lost by an innings and 17 runs against Madhya Pradesh in the first match, that too at home! 

Gujarat skipper Priyank Panchal wins the toss and elects to bat first. Why? “The pitch will crack up soon and there will turn and bounce from the fag end of day one only,” Rajat Bhatia had remarked in the pitch report earlier. Gujarat was playing at home and they knew this wicket very well. 

But even J&K had spent a couple of days at the venue! Anyone with basic cricket knowledge could sniff that this pitch will start deteriorating very soon! So, the best thing was to win the toss and elect to bat first! Because the only chance to score some runs was on the first day when the pitch was fresh. 

Also, any team would play three spinners on this track, knowing it will be helpful to them. Gujarat did the same. But what about J&K? They played three seamers and two spinners with one among them a batting all-rounder. 

It’s a known thing that most of the pitches in India favour spinners but J&K seems to have plans of their own! There is just one proper spinner in the 16-member squad and that is Abid Mushtaq. Other one is Sahil Lotra, who is better known for his batting and doesn’t look beyond a part-time spinner. 

Also, while Gujarat would’ve been praying to win the toss, J&K on the other side had made up their mind to bowl first on a pitch, where probably any other team would bat first for obvious reasons! Isn’t it bizarre? J&K lost the toss but they got what they wanted: bowling first. 

Pundir said at the toss that J&K believes in playing “fearless” cricket and they would have bowled first, had they won the toss! But should any team defy logic while being fearless? Well, let the readers decide that. 

So, once J&K got what they wanted, what would you expect? Obviously, J&K firing in with the ball and getting wickets earlier on. What happened instead was Gujarat started off brilliantly with openers putting up over 100-run stand!

The bowlers, however, made a sort of comeback and restricted the hosts to 267/6 at the end of day one. Finally, on the morning of day two, Gujarat ended up making 307 in the first innings. 

Fair enough job by bowlers! But this was only possible with Abid Mushtaq, the left-arm spinner, having to bowl 37 overs, which was more than one-third of the total overs bowled by J&K (104.3)! He grabbed a four-wicket haul. 

Sahil Lotra, the other spinner, looked ordinary, although he also bowled 21 overs, taking two wickets. Auqib Nabi, the seam-bowling all-rounder, also picked up a brace. 

Now, it was time for J&K to bat. Again, one thought that they would at least reply strongly! However, the batters continued their irresponsible batting display from the first match as J&K was bowled out for meagre 135 runs.

Even in this wicket-keeper batter Fazil Rashid scored the bulk of the runs. He returned unbeaten on 51 and formed a partnership of 52 runs with Umran Malik for the last wicket. Otherwise, J&K wouldn’t have crossed the 100-run mark.

J&K Batting Card in the first innings. Pic: Hotstar

Gujarat, understandably, enforced the follow-on and there was no stopping them! Like the first innings, J&K kept losing wickets on regular intervals in the second as well. Although there were a few partnerships, J&K could again only make 182 runs in the second innings, giving a target of 11 runs to Gujarat. The hosts came in and chased it down, losing one wicket in the process. 

So, it meant J&K faced two consecutive humiliating defeats! It is the same J&K team that made it to the Vijay Hazare Trophy quarter-finals for the first time in history just a couple of weeks ago. So, what went wrong? 

First and foremost, JKCA needs to understand the term “horses for courses”! They play the same squad for every single format! The same team played Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (T20), Vijay Hazare Trophy (50 overs) and now is playing Ranji Trophy (multi-day)! 

These are entirely different formats and isn’t it so obvious that different players are suited for different formats? JKCA doesn’t seem to understand that! Not even a single batter in J&K’s current squad averages above 32 in first-class cricket! 32 is even considered poor for a top-order batter in T20 cricket, let alone in multi-days!

If this doesn’t define J&K’s batting, what would? Abid Mushtaq, who comes to bat at number 8 for J&K and is a bowler who can bat, has an average of 25 while captain Shubham Pundir’s average is 22! And mind you this is after 32 first-class matches! Even Auqib Nabi, who bats at the number 9 or even number 10 at times, has an average of 20! 

J&K captain Shubham Pundir’s first-class record. Pic: Hotstar

The other thing that J&K batters lack is the right approach! They either go too defensive or too aggressive but playing multi-day cricket is all about being between these two. In this match against Gujarat, J&K played too many maidens in the first innings, making bowlers get heavy on them. 

In the second innings, they tried to be too aggressive, which again back-fired! So, finding that middle ground is the trick! I’m no coach but anyone who follows cricket closely would know this. And this is not on the basis of this match alone, J&K was bundled out for 98 and 193 in the first match as well. 

Gujarat also taught J&K how to make the most of the home conditions. J&K had made a pitch where the ball wouldn’t bounce above the knee most of the time at Jammu in the first match. They knew their strength and could’ve prepared a track that favours them and not the opposition. 

So, what is the solution to J&K’s woes in Ranji Trophy?

First things first: the question that even people are asking is “where is Parvez Rasool?” The person who has been J&K’s best performer in almost every Ranji Trophy season is left out of the squad! As bizarre as it might sound, it is the truth.

No, he is not out because of personal reasons! JKCA didn’t call him to the camp either. There’s no such thing! He has just been left out. The all-rounder took 16 wickets in 3 matches in last Ranji Trophy season. He’s J&K’s highest wicket-taker in almost all three formats. His batting numbers are decent too. 

So, why is he out of the team? Well, only JKCA knows that and they aren’t ready to answer.

His inclusion in the team could surely be one of the solutions. His experience in both bowling and batting will strengthen the J&K team manifold.

Most wickets for J&K in the last 10 seasons of the Ranji Trophy. Pic: Hotstar

Star cricketer Abdul Samad who did the heavy lighting in that middle order for J&K is also being missed. He’s injured, so if he recovers anytime soon, his inclusion can give a major boost to the side. Similarly, opening batter Qamran Iqbal, who is also injured, could also be handy, if again he recovers. 

Apart from these individuals, there’s a major overhaul needed in how J&K approaches red-ball cricket. They’ve played mediocre cricket in the first two matches with strange decision-making! The first question they need to ask themselves is: are they here to win or just compete? Once they have an answer for it, things would change. 

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