Reduced emphasis on player performances in domestic cricket, particularly the Ranji trophy, could weaken the foundation of Indian cricketing success
Indian cricket's premier domestic tournament, the Ranji Trophy — in its newly formed avatar last year — is on its second leg this year. With 38 teams in the fray, Indian cricket has truly reached the length and breadth of the country. The Lodha committee recommendation, in involving the north-eastern states along with a few others awaiting recognition, has played a major part in this effort.
The Ranji Trophy that commenced in 1934 on the lines of the Australian and New Zealand domestic cricket structure, with just a few provinces and states participating in it initially, has now grown to become the biggest cricket league in the world.
In the earlier days, an upcoming cricketer's dream was to get selected into their respective state team to play Ranji, for one to be recognised and considered for a place in the national side. There was no easy way to success as one had to perform exceptionally well in the domestic tournaments to do so.
The present structure of the U-19 India side, India 'A' and the franchise-based Indian Premier League (IPL) and the various limited-overs tournaments being played in India, has made performances in the Ranji Trophy less relevant. The pride of playing for one's state or association has diminished extensively, with young upcoming cricketers far more interested in making a name through their performance in the IPL rather than the conventional route of making it to the top.
The success of the Ranji Trophy is what will keep Indian cricket flourishing and therefore, similar to Test cricket, this tournament needs a shot in the arm to get its due recognition and pride of place. Apart from a mandatory international overseas tour and players playing in it, every cricketer should be made to play the domestic circuit, when available. The India 'A' and U-19 tours should not be scheduled during the Ranji Trophy tournament.
It was sad to see this year in the Ranji Trophy, two of the premier sides of the country, Mumbai and Tamil Nadu, losing two outright games to opponents whom they would have scoffed at in the years gone by. One was, therefore, perplexed and shocked that international players from Mumbai, Tamil Nadu and other Ranji Trophy teams were allowed by the BCCI to rest and relax, while their sides were playing some crucial and important matches. The BCCI's attitude in mollycoddling the senior level players and keeping them away from the domestic circuit is why the value of playing cricket at home has diffused drastically.
In the last decade, one has been seeing as to how the Indian national cricket team players have found ways of escaping playing domestic cricket on some excuse or the other. The case of Prithvi Shaw is a good example of the way domestic cricket is being seen by the administration. Shaw, during a Ranji game in Mumbai, injured his shoulder while fielding. In the middle of the game, he was flown to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru.
Understandably, he was injured and needed care but even in that condition, he was capable of keeping one end up, if the team required his presence. In this case, Mumbai did need him, especially when Sarfaraz Khan, their middle-order batsman, was batting with over 70 under his belt. In the past, there have been many cases of players assisting their sides with fractures and other major injuries as after all cricket is an uncertain game and the match is not over till the last ball is bowled.
The NCA, one hopes, under the astute leadership of Rahul Dravid, will become the centre of excellence for Indian cricket as intended. At present, the confidence among any injured player is rather low. The past history has shown how some of our leading cricketers have suffered there, one dreads to think what must have happened to many of the junior and first-class players sent there for recovery from their injuries.
One dare not ask! The only solution for this is to set up a committee of specialist doctors that can be headed by a doctor such as Anand Joshi, who has been a part of the BCCI panel earlier. With funds not being a constraint, the BCCI could get the best of the best.
Another area of concern has always been the quality of umpiring in the domestic matches. This came into prominence lately in the case of Shubman Gill, one of India's upcoming talented cricketers. He showed disrespect to the umpire by standing his ground after being given out to a caught-behind appeal by the Delhi side. The umpire was on his debut match and made the cardinal sin of retracting his decision. This led to a direct confrontation with the Delhi side which naturally stopped further play.
Shubman, after all, is a player who could change the complete complexion of the game to his advantage by scoring big. Delhi was right in their complaint even though they knew it was a bad decision by the umpire. Shubman naturally was livid as for him every knock is important to make his way into the Indian side. He apparently was given a bad decision in the earlier match as well. One can understand his frustration as it is easy for a person to criticise him for his behaviour, without knowing what it entails when one is striving to do well. A cricketer's adrenalin is pumping and it does get difficult to control ones' emotions when one feels cheated.
With plenty of matches being played in India, the BCCI needs to structure good learning and certificate programs for umpires. This needs to be done on a war footing. One hopes that the glory that the Ranji Trophy had and stood for does come back once again. If not, a frugal domestic cricket foundation could become a real cause for concern.
Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are strictly personal