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October 24, 1997


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What's wrong with our domestic cricket?

Prem Panicker

I was skimming through the papers of the last few days, seeking information about the ongoing Ranji Trophy fixtures.

That's one of the problems of being tied to the desk for whatever reason -- you are forced to rely on the media for any information you want.

So what do I find? In two of the biggest national newspapers, there is about a para and a half about the Karnataka versus Kerala fixture. And nothing at all about the Tamil Nadu versus Andhra game.

The Hindu -- India's de facto paper of record for cricket -- does have some information about both games. And "some" is the operative word, really. Because after checking out six different papers, I realise I have no real clue to how the games went, no idea about the ebbs and flows of play, no insight into how the various established stars and upcoming hopefuls performed...

And before you point it out, yeah, right -- Rediff hasn't exactly devoted major bandwidth to the Ranji tournament either. In our case, we could say we don't as yet do not have the manpower resources to allocate for this -- but the fact remains that if the need had been emergent enough, perhaps the manpower would have been found. Somehow.

All of which raises the question, why? Why is there so little interest in the Ranji games? Why, given that the international season is about to go into overdrive with the Lankans and the Australians getting here, isn't there more of an interest, within the media, on the early form of the stars and wannabes?

To which perhaps, the counter question would be: how much space would you allocate a Brazil versus Bangladesh football game?

To my mind, the problem is that even if I did go to watch Karnataka, with the likes of Dravid, Kumble, Joshi, Srinath and Prasad in its ranks, take on say Kerala, I would do so only if I had nothing better to do. Reason being, performances in such a game mean nothing, really,in terms of serving as an index of the form of the players concerned -- the teams are so hopelessly mismatched that it would only occasion surprise if Srinath, Prasad and Kumble did not take wickets. The fact that all three of them did, tells me nothing.

And that's a sad commentary to make on India's premier domestic competition -- if only because in ideal circumstances, it is the Ranji Trophy that should serve as the breeding, and spotting, ground for talent. As it stands today, however, the Ranji Trophy and its finale, the Irani Trophy, winds to a close way after the international season has ended.

Another problem with the domestic season today is that we do not have too many one day tournaments of any decent standard -- which, given the amount of ODIs being played at the international level today, means our players do not get too many opportunities to hone their skills at home.

Having come this far, I guess what is expected of me is to suggest a solution. This, however, I do not propose to do. At least, not yet.

My idea, in this particular diary-type exercise, is to pose the question. Rather, questions. The first is, do we need a review of the Indian domestic cricket structure? And second, if yes, what shape should it now assume?

Before leaving it up to you to come up with the answers, I suspect it might help to list some of the key areas that need attention. Thus:

Item: Ideally, the contest should put teams of equal strength against one another, in order, firstly, to enhance the level of competition, and secondly, to provide a better index of the form and abilities of the various players. A Bombay versus Karnataka tie, to give one example, satisfies these criteria. Tamil Nadu versus Tripura does not.

Item: The quality of the respective teams apart, a situation where two teams both comprising batting lineups without a single national player takes four days to complete just two innings out of four, and in the end decide the outcome on the basis of the first innings lead, proves nothing, accomplishes nothing. Games have to become contests between batsman and bowler -- for only then will both be able to develop the skills needed to play at the highest levels.

Item: Ideally, the national players should be participating in the domestic tournaments. Firstly, because it is here that they will be able to practise and perfect new techniques, and iron out flaws. And secondly, because this gives up and coming players an opportunity to pit their skills against the best in the country, rather than acquire meaningless averages against sub-standard opponents.

Item: Ideally, the major domestic tournament(s) should give the national selectors fodder for thought ahead of the international season. When this happens, the selection process assumes some degree of sense -- state selectors picking the best talent in their particular fiefdoms, the national selectors assessing, and then selecting from, the best the states have to offer.

Item: The domestic tournament has to be vibrant enough to bring the spectator back to the ground. Because it is only when local cricket is really buzzing that the game comes alive, and the enthusiasm spreads through to the grassroots, the local leagues and the schools and colleges and indeed into the streets, that the country will begin to throw up talent in the kind of quantities symptomatic of cricketing health.

To my mind, a domestic schedule and cricketing structure that satisfies the above criteria is the first step towards the rejuvenation of Indian cricket.

Question is, how do we accomplish this?

Over to you...

Prem Panicker

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