Sachin Tendulkar made two significant comments about the Ranji Trophy after the Ranji Trophy semifinal in Chennai. One intentional, and well thought out; other, in all probability, completely off the cuff.
Sachin disapproved of playing Ranji matches on neutral grounds — home support creates excitement, which is good for players and good for cricket, he believes.
Asked about his smashing hundred against Saurashtra when he was clearly under the weather, the master shrugged it off, saying modestly, “It was good practice”.
We understand the great man has scored a few centuries in his illustrious career, but is the Ranji semifinal just a useful hit in the net for him?
As Tendulkar is invariably modest about his staggering achievements, the ‘good practice’ bit was not meant to be a boast, but a plain fact.
The underlying message is that the Ranji Trophy is crying for an urgent quality upgrade. At the moment, it seems as if we go through with the tournament only because as ICC full members, we must have First Class cricket. Otherwise, domestic cricket does not matter.
Many show concern for Test cricket, and speculate about its future, but the Ranji Trophy fails to capture the attention of anyone outside.
Too many teams, bad wickets, poor playing facilities, dodgy umpiring — all conspire to suck quality out of India’s premier domestic tournament reducing it to a largely non-competitive, dysfunctional exercise.
As a result, the players coming through it aren’t equipped well enough to stand the test of international cricket.
They are as unprepared as a Class X student would be for an IIT entrance test and there is enough proof to establish that Ranji isn’t the best finishing school — the list of students who excelled at the Ranji level but flunked at the highest level is indeed very long.
Stats also prove that, in recent years, Ranji’s highest run-getters have not succeeded in Tests.
And with the Ranji Trophy being the only benchmark, it is hardly surprising that national selection throws up names, which either disappear rapidly, or haven’t done enough to get there in the first place.
Only last season, Pankaj Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Ranadeb Bose and Joginder Sharma made the cut on the basis of their First Class performances.
Today, they are on the periphery.
The example at the other extreme is of players like Ishant Sharma and Virat Kohli, whose climb has been spectacular even though they are yet to make a major impact in Ranji.