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No point in neutrality

Domestic cricket, which serves as a springboard for players to become national and international stars, is likened to an orphaned child in search of ownership, writes Pradeep Magazine.

cricket Updated: Jan 19, 2009 08:15 IST

Cricket came home last fortnight and with India not playing any international match during that period it got proper splash in the media. Domestic cricket, which serves as a springboard for players to become national and international stars, is likened to an orphaned child in search of ownership.

In the overcrowded international calendar, it gets the space which is barely enough for the world to figure out who is playing whom.

This time around, there was no such clash and the Ranji Trophy knockout rounds became worthy of news to be written in detail. Unfortunately, the cricket on display was so insipid - either loaded in favour of the batsmen or so one-sided -- that it hardly served its own cause. The villain, as happens most often in cricket, was the wicket.

The sentiment behind the concept of 'neutral' venues for the matches must have been a noble one. It was done to discourage 'home' advantage of the hosts. What it means is that the Board did not want the host team to prepare wickets to suit its strength.

It was believed that to encourage genuine contest a sporting wicket was a must and that could only happen if the hosts were a Neutral party. Hence Mumbai played Uttar Pradesh in Hyderabad in the final and the semifinals were played in Nagpur and Chennai, though neither of them had their teams figuring in the match. Fair enough.

But what unfolded were two semi-finals played on wickets where to get a batsman out was like climbing Mount Everest. The wicket in the final may have not been as docile but one man - Zaheer Khan - displayed his outstanding skill with the ball to such effect that the match got reduced to a lop-sided contest.

One would have imagined that Chennai and Nagpur would set an example for others to follow, more so as the Board secretary and president come from these two cities. Instead, they were the worst offenders and by producing 'sleeping beauties' they did more harm than good to this concept of 'neutrality'.

Even otherwise, this neutral concept is not something to be welcomed as a contest needs spectators and why should Chennai want to watch a match in which their own team is not playing. It is like Delhi hosting an Australia-England match.

Even the players would have wanted to play in front of their own home crowd, even if sparse, or in the 'rival territory’. No wonder, even Sachin Tendulkar, who is careful in not treading on any one's toes, was critical of the Board's dalliance with neutrality.