The air is thick with nervous energy. Another year of Indian domestic cricket kicks off on Friday, one which is unique in many ways. Most first-class cricketers have been busy priming themselves for an arduous five months of incessant cricket, putting in hours of daily practice, ironing out chinks, strategising and planning. The new set of playing rules, brought in by the recently-constituted technical committee, has also added to the excitement this season.
Since Elite and Plate groups have been shelved for equal distribution of 27 teams in three groups, every team will play a minimum of eight first-class matches. This is a welcome change, for previously most teams got only five-six first-class games in a season, which finished in six weeks. It goes without saying that six weeks was too short a time to recover from injury, let alone loss of form.
Another positive change has been the elimination of the semifinal game in the Plate Division. Now, if the team has done well over eight games to finish in the top two, it gets promoted to Group B straightaway.
Besides, there's a change in the points system too. In order to encourage teams to push for an outright win, this year there's one more point to be gained for that endeavour. I would've liked at least five bonus points for an outright win and fewer points than the current three for gaining the first innings lead.
First innings lead
Even with an additional point, I envisage most teams focusing on gaining the first innings lead more often than not. This attitude is the bane of Indian domestic cricket. Still, these changes have been steps in the right direction. Hopefully, we will see more changes in the years to come.
The biggest game-changer this season though would be the presence of current India cricketers. The first couple of rounds in Ranji Trophy will see the entire India team plying their craft for their respective state teams.
Most young first-class players would make the most of rubbing shoulders with the best in the business.
Even as the top India players will get busy with the Test series later, the ones who're vying for a place in the Test side and the ones who play only the shorter formats will be around. Since it's a home series, the Test squad won't be cast in stone either and that gives an opportunity to everyone. It's unlikely that we'll see players pulling out citing an injury just after the squad is announced and if they haven't made it.
The only area of concern with the current setup is the scheduling of Duleep Trophy and CLT20, which took place just before the start of Ranji.
Most state teams have been forced to prepare for the season without their main players, which also means that the Ranji season, once again, is too cramped for the players' comfort.
The teams which reach the finals would be playing 47 days of cricket in 90 days. It's too much to ask of a fast bowler to bowl 20 overs at full, till every third day, over three months.
We may either lose a few bowlers or witness players putting in just 70% of effort. That's not what you want from your premier domestic tournament.
The writer is a former India opener