The Ranji Trophy first round, starting November 3, will feature a lot of big names. Rahul Dravid will turn up for Karnataka against the Mohd Kaif-led Uttar Pradesh, Zaheer Khan for Mumbai and VVS Laxman for Hyderabad among others. The mere presence of these names makes these matches very important.
Players in their respective teams get a first hand account of what it takes to be an international cricketer. Dravid, for instance, is invariably the first man to get into the team bus, Laxman is ever so calm before going in to bat; Zaheer and Ashish spend countless hours working on their core muscles even while their team bats and, so on and so forth.
These guys maintain a very high standard of professionalism regardless of what they are playing and this professionalism rubs off on teammates and opposition alike. How can you not be punctual when Dravid is on time, how can you not spend more time training when Zaheer is working on his fitness even after a hard day of cricket?
Another thing these guys ensure is that every other player keeps complacency at bay. You want to be at your best to compete against the best. In any case, a youngster wants to go that extra yard to leave an impression on the big guys.
Their showcase of skills also works as a coaching manual of sorts. I vividly remember watching Laxman score a master-class century in a Duleep Trophy game against North Zone. His sense of timing and balance was a treat.
Similarly, watching Zaheer or Nehra make the ball talk is a lesson for every budding pacer.
The journeyman's life
While some players enthusiastically turn up for their respective states, others find the domestic grind far too gruelling. The facilities on the domestic circuit are not a patch on those provided for internationals or even for the IPL. Some younger guys are quite unhappy about travelling to obscure places by cattle class or staying in 'not-so-posh' hotels. One such cricketer, whose place is secure in India's shorter format, made his unhappiness visible to all and sundry when he was told that his team's next match was on the outskirts of Maharashtra.
Well, this attitude could possibly spur him on to perform exceptionally well and seal his place in Team India in all three formats but frankly, it had a detrimental affect on the rest. After all, a first-class team invariably has players who are state greats but possibly never don India colours.
That's when the presence, however occasional, of a Dravid and a Laxman becomes ever so important to keep things in perspective. It inspires players young and old to stay motivated and of course, helps Generation Next stay grounded.
(The writer is the captain of the Delhi cricket team)