Much has been spoken about India's thrashing in England, but few have cared to look beyond the obvious and deliberate upon the fundamentals. MAK Pataudi, however, hit the nail on its head by pointing out the importance of a robust first-class structure to strengthen Indian cricket. That India's abysmal show could perhaps be the result of a deteriorating domestic structure, is certainly an idea worth a thought.
Overhaul Ranji trophy
Firstly, we need to ask ourselves if we want Ranji Trophy to be the most important tournament or not. And if the answer is 'yes', then we need to revamp the structure completely.
In current structure, a four-day match is played every week with only three-day break between matches. Now, if you play first match in Jammu and the second in Kochi, one full day goes in travelling. The next day is spent recuperating, leaving only a day to prepare for the next outing. You may live with it for a couple of matches but not for seven to eight weeks. The gap should be increased by at least a day.
The current Elite and Plate system leaves the teams in the Plate division and those failing to qualify for knockouts in Elite divisions with very little cricket. As many as 10 teams play only 5 matches, and another 5 teams play only 6 matches. Not to forget that the season lasts only 5-6 weeks. A niggle or even mild illness for a few weeks could cost a player one full year. The solution is to split 27 teams into 3 groups of 9 teams each. This will ensure every team plays at least 8 matches, and make all games a five-day affair.
The emphasis is on taking the first-innings lead. It only encourages and rewards mediocrity. We must change the points system to ensure there's little to gain in the first innings, and substantial rewards for an outright result. How about awarding batting and bowling points throughout the game and 10 bonus points for a win?
Prepare Better wickets
It’s important to play on surfaces that help bowlers too. BCCI’s pitch committee has done little to improve the standards. It’s rather ambitious to expect players brought up on low and slow surfaces to suddenly find ways to succeed in hostile conditions. Also, bring parity between the payments for an IPL season and a domestic season.
Penalise lazy state units
The onus of improving the quality of cricket in Ranji Trophy is on the state associations. Every unit’s contribution should be assessed on two yardsticks— first, the number of quality players produced at various levels, and second, the team's performance in the national tournaments. If an association continues to under-perform on both counts, they should be financially penalized.
Aakash Chopra is former India opener