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Stars come down for home grind

india Updated: Jan 10, 2007 00:49 IST
Highlight Story

A ridiculous stand taken by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) comes first to mind as the battle for Ranji Trophy enters the final round of the group league matches. The board’s directive that those who returned from South Africa in the early hours of Monday have to play these games starting on Wednesday defies all logic.

Spare a thought for the players who have just completed a difficult tour in terms of everything and hardly had the time to unpack. Even before they could actually soak in things which seem homely after weeks of struggle in alien conditions, these players have to get ready for four more days of cricket. While the policy of making Indian stars play domestic cricket when they are available is praiseworthy, the BCCI has clearly got the timing wrong here.

Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan and Anil Kumble are skipping these games — for various officially cited reasons — but not everyone is that lucky. The likes of Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman are all expected to carry their bags virtually from the airport to the ground and slog it out at the expense of some precious rest ahead of the ODIs against the West Indies, starting on January 21.

But this is the world of the BCCI, where whims and illogical fancies often call the shots, irrespective of who is heading the richest cricket board on earth. There are many who comply too, which is why the show goes on, pushing the quality on offer to the backstage. And that is why it is time to shift focus to the battle to emerge the best of India, instead of dwelling on what should have been.

After the completion of five rounds (four for a few teams), equations in the Elite Division are complex, except for Baroda who are topping Group A and are set to reach the semifinals for the second successive year. Karnataka and Andhra are fighting for the second spot in this group, while there are four contestants - Bengal, Mumbai, Punjab and Hyderabad - for the two qualifying slots from Group B.

It has been a remarkable comeback by Mumbai, who showed the kind of steel only 36-time champions can display. They were almost in relegation zone after failing to collect a single point from their first three games but bounced back with innings wins in the next two. If momentum is anything to go by, they are expected to make the cut with Bengal, who look good to prove their second-place finish last year was no fluke.

Elite group newcomers Saurashtra have done their cause no harm with two outright wins after going without a point in the first four games. The same cannot be said of Rajasthan - the other fresher among the elite - though they have avoided relegation, pushing Gujarat to the Plate division by the virtue of one outright win as against none for their neighbours.

UP are struggling to escape the dubious distinction of being relegated despite being the defending champions - something that sent Railways off track last season. Tamil Nadu is the other team trying to avoid the chop in Group B and the battles for varied interests among so many teams make this last round potentially exciting. It would have been better had the BCCI really been interested in providing the best possible playing conditions, but that is a different ball game.

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