In three Ranji Trophy matches this season, Karnataka's Manish Pandey has put up 268 runs. (Getty Images)
As the fourth round of Ranji Trophy matches kicks off, we take a look at a few of the players making news in the tournament – for all the right reasons.
The man who divides opinion like few other Indians today is currently the highest wicket-taker this season with – at the time of writing – 18 at 12.88 including two five-wicket hauls. Against Madhya Pradesh, he grabbed eight wickets – five in the second innings – as Baroda won by eight wickets. Another five-wicket haul followed against Haryana as Baroda hung for a draw.
The pace hasn't improved much – Irfan still hovers in the mid-130kmph range – but the swing has been noticeable, specifically in the match against Baroda when he troubled the batsmen. With Irfan, it's so often about the mental state he's in as compared to physical, and he has to understand that wickets and runs are his best way to force a comeback to the Indian fold. For one of the most naturally talented but infuriating talents of this era, this domestic season could be his most critical yet.
The Mumbai allrounder has scorched the run charts this season; he has 505 runs from three innings at a whopping average of 252.00. That includes a double-century against Rajasthan, 191 against Karnataka and a first-innings 71 in Mumbai's ongoing match against Orissa. His bowling hasn't been so hot – just one wicket at 71 – but then Nayar has also bowled just 27 overs in three matches, four less that veteran Ajit Agarkar bowled in one match.
Nayar's first-class pedigree is impressive: over 2600 runs at above 50 and 74 wickets at a shade under 30. He has played three ODIs for India but clearly hasn't had enough of a chance yet to show off his skills on the international stage. Nayar has been a steady performer for Mumbai during the IPL, scoring 457 runs in 30 games at a strike rate of 134.01 and also picking up five wickets at an average of 30.40. With India still looking for a genuine medium-pace allrounder in limited-overs cricket, perhaps the best way to keep his name in the reckoning for that spot is heaps of runs and some wickets.
In three Ranji matches this season, Pandey – who burst into the limelight when he became the first Indian to score an IPL century in 2009 - has put up 268 runs. His participation in the rest of the season remains in doubt after he underwent a hernia surgery in Bangalore this week, but Karnataka will hope the 22-year-old returns for the business end of the season.
Pandey's form has been in keeping with an impressive Ranji Trophy CV. He was the highest run-getter in the 2009-10 Ranji season – 822 runs in nine matches at 63.00 – and followed it up as the fifth highest last year, with 629 runs from eight matches including two centuries. He continued that form into the Duleep Trophy, scoring 329 runs in three innings, including his maiden first-class double-hundred.
Srivastava, 22, has been under the radar of the selectors since he scored a century for Uttar Pradesh in the 2007-08 Ranji final. UP lost the match by a large margin, but Srivastava's achievement pitchforked him into the Under-19 side that eventually won the World Cup in Malaysia in 2008. He finished as the tournament's leading run-scorer, with 262 runs at an average of 52.40. In three years since, Srivastava has been a steady accumulator for UP, and this season is second in their batting list with 425 runs including two centuries and two half-centuries from five innings. Those are mighty impressive numbers. Though some way away from national selection, Srivastava remains a talent to be looked out for, and that he has youth on his side is a big plus point.
A talented allrounder, Yadav made an impressive 73 on his Ranji debut in 2010 against Delhi. He was signed by the Mumbai Indians in 2011, having played just one first-class game. He made news, however, in September when his name was omitted from the Mumbai Indians squad for the Champions League T20 on account of injury, only for Yadav to score an unbeaten 182 in an under-22 tournament in Mumbai. Immediately, he was shuffled back into the squad and made a promising start with two key, brisk knocks as Mumbai won the tournament.
Yadav has clearly channelled that confidence into the Ranji season, amassing 398 runs in four innings, including a belligerent maiden first-class century against Rajasthan to go with two fifties. At 21, he is one of the most promising finds for Mumbai in recent times. How consistent Yadav remains will be key to his future.
Appanna, a 22-year-old left-arm orthodox spinner, has been through a lot in his five-year carer. He's been called for an illegal action, lost a season to injury and has had to carry the mantle of Karnataka's rich heritage of spin after Erapalli Prasanna, BS Chandrasekhar, Anil Kumble and Sunil Joshi.
This season, he is the second-highest wicket-taker after Irfan, with 17. In the season opener, he took six wickets against Rajasthan and then against Railways he snared career-best figures of 11 for 107 to help Karnataka win and bo joint-top of their group with Mumbai. Karnataka are currently at the top, and much of their success rests on how young Appanna applies himself. With three accomplished fast bowlers in the Karnataka side - R Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun and S Aravind - Appanna will need to learn to operate as a back-up bowler at times, a difficult task for any lead spinner.
At one point, having been a part of India's Test squad to Zimbabwe in 2005-06, Jhadav was looking at a potential international career. However, his fortunes took a nosedive afterwards, and at 32, he has accepted that he won't get the Indian cap.
At 28, Jhadav joined the rebel Indian Cricket League – a decision which was criticized as being a rash one – but once the league folded, he was able to return to domestic cricket. Unable to cement a place in his home state Maharashtra, Jadhav joined Assam and has produced three consistent seasons.
In six innings this year, he has amassed 455 runs at 113.75 with three centuries and a fifty and heads the Plate Division charts. While his exploits may not help bottom-placed Assam gain access into the Elite Division, Jadhav stands to enhance his reputation.
Almost uheard of before this season, Maharashtra's left-arm spinner grabbed attention when he took 8 for 20 to bowl out Hyderabad for 54 in their second innings at Uppal. This, after he took five wickets in the first innings. Since then, Darekar has moved to joint first – with Kerala's Sony Cheruvatur – in the Plate Division wicket-takers' list with 21 at an average of 14.95. In taking three five-wicket hauls so far in his second season of first-class cricket, Darekar is a bright spot in Maharashtra's campaign.