As another domestic season unfolds, it is intriguing to speculate about players likely to step up to the next level.
Will Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa push their claims for India selection? What is in store for Aakash Chopra, S. Badrinath, Venugopala Rao and Rohit Sharma? Can Ashish Nehra and L. Balaji regain their places? Are VRV Singh, Ashok Dinda, Yo Mahesh and Piyush Chawla good enough? And the sawaal that is most tantalising: Is there a place for Dada Ganguly?
Most observers agree with chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar’s low opinion of domestic cricket and the talent on view.
And as everyone wants quality to rise, various solutions —fewer teams, participation of top payers, better conditions — are suggested to fix the problem. But recent experience suggests solutions from outside — through imported inputs — just don’t work in Indian cricket.
Evidence: Despite Greg Chappell/Rudy Webster and various bio-mechanic experts, the Indian team performance is no different than in the days of Indian coaches. The feeling is, just as foreign chemicals did nothing for the CCI track, foreign ideas do little for Indian players.
Still, the romance with videsh continues: Vikram Solanki and Kabir Ali have been contracted by Rajasthan for the Ranji Trophy season and other teams are chasing unemployed English players to play in India this winter. In their view, quality from overseas will make the Ranji Trophy competitive and raise overall standards.
Vengsarkar will then have a larger pool of players to choose from and hopefully won’t crib about lack of talent at his disposal.
But some positive developments are already visible in the domestic set-up. With salaries rising (more than a lakh plus per Ranji game) players are working desperately hard, slogging in the nets and working out in the gym.
Till yesterday, they were driven by a pure love of the game or seduced by the hope of striking it big some day.
For most, this was a dream because there was only a slim chance of landing a job or earning a wage decent enough to support a family.
Yet, like the thousands who arrive in Bombay to become film stars, cricket continues to attract talent.
From this season, cricket is set to become a profession even for the first-class player: The average Ranji player stands to make 10 lakhs in six months, more money than the per year CTC of a successful executive.
With this windfall, retirement plans have been abandoned and senior players, otherwise contemplating moving on, now stay in the game using a BCCI provision that allows states to hire three outside professionals to represent them.
For example, Vineet Jain , a medium pacer with close to 200 Ranji wickets, who played 10 years for Haryana is now turning out for Tripura.
There are others foot soldiers like Jain, who know they will never wear the India cap, never occupy the fast lane or attract attention like celebrity cricketers do. But with cash as a powerful incentive, now they hang on knowing their future is reasonably secure.
What that will do to the careers to younger cricketers, waiting to break in, of course, is another matter.