The BCCI technical committee’s recommendation that Ranji Trophy matches in 2016-17 should be played at neutral venues may have some positives but former cricketers don’t think it is a great move.
“The idea is not bad,” said Chandrakant Pandit, coach of the Mumbai Ranji team. “It may help when we are looking at the promotion of the game, but there is hardly any crowd for Ranji matches.
“Cricketers miss spectator backing because when two non-local teams are playing, locals don’t have any interest in the match. Last year, when we played the final (against Saurashtra) in Pune, there was hardly any crowd support.”
The move to shift matches to neutral venues came up after issues related to altering of pitches to suit home teams.
Pandit felt a team should not be robbed of home advantage. “You get home advantage but winning the toss is in nobody’s hands,” he said.
For former India cricketer Maninder Singh, the priority is cricket. “I think it is a great idea because last year’s Ranji matches were finishing within two days and that has to stop for Indian cricket to improve,” said Maninder.
“We can think about crowd interest or we can think about Indian cricket. I would rather choose Indian cricket because the way we played Ranji last year, we could have hit another low without crowds at all. The crowd hardly comes. It a great proposal to empower Indian cricket,” he added.
Some members of the technical committee even contemplated doing away with the toss – a system being used in County cricket – but they eventually decided against it.
“A major concern is getting crowds for first-class matches,” said Praveen Amre, a former Mumbai player. “But if matches are played at neutral venues, that increases the likelihood of empty stadiums.”
“It isn’t easy for fans to go watch their teams at a neutral venue. By that logic, would you see, say, people in Delhi turning out in big numbers to see Mumbai vs Karnataka game at the Ferozeshah Kotla,” Amre asked.
He admitted that even stars don’t manage to pull crowds during Ranji games. “We once played in Hyderabad with Sachin Tendulkar and hardly anyone came. But, if that match had to be played in Mumbai then 50 per cent of the stands would be full.”
Former India cricketer Madan Lal supported the change. “I think it isn’t a bad idea. I think they proposed it before as well. People don’t come regardless of the venue for Ranji matches. First 50 people used to come and now 25 people will come,” he said.
“They are trying to provide good wickets so that the standard of wickets can improve. That is the committee’s intention. You have to keep on trying different things. The domestic structure is not given much importance. There is no harm trying something different. They are trying to improve the standard of Ranji cricket which is good. People who want to watch a match, regardless of the team, will turn up because they like to watch good cricket,” said Lal.
The technical committee of the BCCI has recommended keeping neutral venues for the upcoming Ranji season.
The Sourav Ganguly-led committee has floated the idea of hosting Ranji matches at neutral venues in a bid to “make domestic cricket more competitive and rule out the issues related to preparing specific wickets for home teams, as well as to expose players to play in different conditions”.
The recommendation will be tabled at the BCCI Working Committee meeting.