IPL Ranji Trophy triple tons
Ravindra Jadeja (left) is the all-time leading triple-century scorer in India with three such knocks. Prithvi Shaw (right) recently registered the second-highest first-class score (379) by an Indian.

Despite IPL blitzkrieg, triple tons in Ranji Trophy see huge spike

It is natural to expect current batsmen to play a lot more innovative and audacious shots as they are brought up on a rich diet of T20 cricket with an eye on the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL). But something else too is happening: there has been a dramatic increase in the number of triple-centuries scored in the Ranji Trophy in the 15-year period since the advent of the IPL in 2008.

Here are some hard facts, in a nutshell, that encapsulate the sensational change: in the first 74 years of the Ranji Trophy, only 22 triple tons – or, 48.89% of the total 49 scored to date – were registered. But, in a dramatic increase in the 15 years since 2008, when the IPL was launched, as many as 27 triple hundreds, or 55.10%, have been hammered. These 27 include Mumbai opener Prithvi Shaw’s magnificent 379, made against Assam last week. And, one never knows, a few might be added as several matches of the 88th edition of the Ranji Trophy are still left to be played.

Some more triple tons might have been scored had the Ranji Trophy not been cancelled in the 2020-21 season – the first time it has happened in the tournament’s history – due to the pandemic, and the 2021-22 season was truncated due to the same reason.

Also read: Prithvi Shaw smashes record triple ton (379) in Ranji Trophy

Let us have a look from another angle at this bewildering phenomenon to understand the massive change. With the IPL launch in 2008 being the centre point, let us see how many triple-centuries were scored in the 15 years before the league and how many have been hit since then. Only 12 triple hundreds were made between 1993-94 and 2007-08 while 27 triple hundreds have been scored so far since the launch of IPL.

It also means that in the first 59 years of the Ranji Trophy, between its first edition in 1934-35 and 1992-93, 15 years before the IPL was launched, a mere 10 triple hundreds were scored.

Ranji Trophy, more than any other national-level tournament, used to be the main platform for players to showcase their talent, mettle, and capabilities to catch the selectors’ eye. But players’ priorities have changed massively since the arrival of the IPL. Unlike the other domestic tournaments, all matches of the IPL are televised globally and even one good performance brings a player into sharp focus. And, importantly, IPL brings a lot of money as well, much more than any domestic tournament.

Also read: IPL 2023: Full list of squads after auction in Kochi

Experts say several factors, like improved pitches, improved quality of bats, fitter and stronger batsmen, and changing ground and weather conditions are responsible for more triple centuries being scored now. It is also worth remembering that the format and the number of matches in the Ranji Trophy have also changed several times since its start.

‘Triple treat’: Jadeja leads the way

Legendary Vijay Hazare was the first batsman to slam a triple hundred in Ranji Trophy – in the sixth year of the competition – for Maharashtra against Baroda in Poona in 1939-40 while Shaw (383 balls, 49x4s, 4x6s) is the latest to do so, in an away match against Assam in Guwahati. And Maharashtra right-hander Bhausaheb Babasaheb Nimbalkar’s epic 443 not out, scored against the erstwhile Kathiawar in Poona in 1948-49, remains the highest individual score in all Indian first-class cricket, and the fourth highest in the world.

However, Saurashtra left-handed batsman Ravindra Jadeja is the all-time leading triple-century scorer in India with three such knocks, and all have come in two successive seasons – 2011-12 (one) and 2012-13 (two). His first one was in an away match against Orissa in Cuttack (314, 375 balls, 29x4s) while the other two were scored in home matches against Gujarat (303 not out, 400 balls, 37x4s, 4x6s) in Surat and against the Railways (320, 491 balls, 28x4s, 7x6s) in Rajkot.

Hyderabad’s stylish VVS Laxman, Cheteshwar Pujara of Saurashtra, Mumbai’s Wasim Jaffer, and Taruwar Kohli come next with two triple hundreds each. Kohli scored his first for Punjab in an away game against Jharkhand in Jamshedpur in 2012-13 and then switched to Mizoram and made the triple ton against Arunachal Pradesh 2019-20 – a seven-year gap.

Also read: Top 10 most expensive buys at IPL 2023 auction

Prolific Mumbai batsman Sarfaraz Khan is another member of the triple centurions’ club who also plays in the IPL. He scored his triple against Uttar Pradesh in 2019-20. Khan’s current first-class average (81.51, after his latest century against Delhi on January 17) is next only to iconic Don Bradman’s career average (95.14).

Bold, aggressive batting

Jaffer, who scored both his Ranji Trophy triple hundreds against Saurashtra 12 years apart (1996-97 and 2008-09), says the main reason for the sudden spurt of 300-plus scores since 2008 is the fearless and aggressive approach of batsmen.

“To score a triple century in a four-day Ranji Trophy game, one has to score quickly. And this is the major reason for the increase in the number of triple hundreds – aggressive and fearless batting. Post-IPL launch, players have increased their scoring speed. Their approach has changed. Batsmen of my generation feared hitting the ball over the top and playing the (reverse) sweep. But the present generation has no such fear. For example, Shaw was batting on 240 [off 283 balls 33x4s, 1×6] at the end of the opening day. So, batting standard has improved,” Jaffer, who captained Mumbai and Vidarbha to multiple Ranji Trophy titles, told The Federal.

Also read: Shubman Gill hits 208 in ODI; breaks Virat Kohli’s record

The all-time top aggregate holder in the Ranji Trophy with 12,038 runs, 44-year-old Jaffer is from the old school of Mumbai batsmanship. However, he tried to change with the times, and has the same message for youngsters.

“I’ll not advise anyone to play like (Cheteshwar) Pujara because you’ll end up playing only red ball cricket. I’d rather say ‘look at Virat Kohli and Joe Root’ because today everyone wants to play white ball cricket – and the money, too, is also in white ball,” said the classical batsman who represented Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the initial IPL years before turning to coaching.

Changing nature of pitches

Pitches have also played a part in batsmen piling up tall scores. “Earlier, groundsmen used to prepare pitches, now curators do it. So, pitches have become standardised. Many years ago, Indian pitches were criticised for being spinner-friendly. But when we came (in the BCCI pitch committee around 2011), we taught curators and drilled in their minds that when a match starts, some grass should be left on the pitch,” said Daljit Singh, former head of the BCCI Pitches Committee and a former record holder of dismissals as a wicket-keeper in the Ranji Trophy.

“The biggest change has come in batsmen’s shot-making; it has become innovative. The types of shots that Suryakumar Yadav plays… if he had played those a few years ago, he would have been omitted from the team. A spirit of adventurism and innovative shot-making has also played a part. Today, players play four-day matches as if they are playing a T20 game,” underlines 80-year-old Singh, who represented Services, erstwhile Northern Punjab, Delhi, and Bihar in domestic cricket and has been associated as the chief curator with Punjab since the early 1990s.

Also read: Jaydev Unadkat snares first-over Ranji Trophy hat-trick, makes history

A senior curator, who didn’t want to be identified, says pitches’ preparation has improved from 2010-11 when the BCCI pitches committee took some unprecedented steps. “Daljit Singh streamlined pitch making. You can’t say pitches have become batting friendly; they have become result oriented as the bounce on them is much better. Technology, too, has helped batsmen. Also, earlier not so many fast bowlers would come up; now there is a rich supply line because of the improved pitches. And batsmen have become stroke players because of the IPL,” he says.

Jaffer concurs. “The quality of bowling has also changed according to the times. Today, spinners know that if they give flight to the ball, like their predecessors, batsmen would step out and hit them for sixes in the first session itself. So, they now bowl a flatter trajectory. However, fast bowling is of better quality now,” he emphasizes.

More matches, covered pitches

Player-turned-international umpire Suresh Lalchand Shastri provides a different perspective. “One of the reasons is that the number of matches in the Ranji Trophy has increased in the last few years, and the number of teams has also increased in the recent years,” said the 67-year-old former Rajasthan left-arm spinner, referring to Chhattisgarh, six  North Eastern states, Uttarakhand, and Bihar being added since 2016-17, taking the current number to 38.

“Also, earlier, pitches used to be left uncovered overnight. Even when I started umpiring in 1990, pitches were left uncovered; now they are fully covered. This has also made a difference. And I feel batsmen are playing against weak pace bowling attacks these days as the fast bowlers who represent India don’t, or hardly, play domestic matches. This is a major reason,” he argues.

The Gordon Greenidge effect

Improved quality of bats is cited amongst the major reasons for the surge in triple hundreds. And here retired great West Indies opener Gordon Greenidge has a role to play, points out Rakesh Mahajan, chairman of BD Mahajan & Sons (BDM), the premier cricket equipment-making factory based in Meerut, near New Delhi.

“On the day of the Holy festival in 1997, Greenidge visited our factory and made a pen sketch and we produced a bat based on that. That bat, called ‘Dynamic Power’, weighed 1150 gms, had 40 mm edge and the splice was 67mm, while the meat of the bat had the punch and the bounce. It became world famous and set a trend. Bat manufacturers globally copied its profile/template. All the players today use bats of the same profile, and it has helped them in scoring quickly and hitting sixes. I feel this bat has contributed to the increased number of triple centuries,” Mahajan, whose BDM company turns 100 next year, told The Federal.

(The author is a cricket reporter based in New Delhi who has covered the sport for over three decades. He tweets at @AlwaysCricket)

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