Something spectacular happened this year in Indian domestic cricket. Rajasthan and Jharkhand, normally the whipping boys, punched above their weight to win the Ranji Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy, respectively, for the first time.
Was the success of the two lightweights a mere coincidence, or is it a pointer to a new trend? As it is, the last decade has seen smaller and satellite cities throwing up more cricketers than the traditional hubs. Is the trend no longer limited to individuals? Is it the beginning of a period where lesser known teams will challenge the might of traditional powerhouses like Mumbai, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Delhi etc?
Pose the question to Hrishikesh Kanitkar, the seasoned Maharashtra batsman who, playing as a professional, captained Rajasthan to victory, and he doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge that they have pioneered a trend that Indian cricket needs.
“Ours is a great story. Rising from the Plate group to win the Ranji Trophy is absolutely great. It’s going to inspire several other teams and individuals to attempt what they thought was impossible,” he says.
For Jharkhand, much of the inspiration needed to upstage teams like Mumbai and Baroda on their way to the fantastic triumph came from the meteoric rise of their state-mate, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
“He’s a hero and an example to every cricketer in the state. His success has given loads of confidence to everyone,” says Jharkhand Cricket Association secretary Rajesh Verma. And whatever else was needed to take the big leap was taken care of by improving the infrastructure, and by training a bunch of talented young men. This sudden rise of non-traditional powers will only make the domestic circuit more competitive. And, this can only spell good news for Indian cricket.
“A tough and intense domestic cricket will throw up more tough and talented cricketers for the India team,” says Kanitkar, a former India One-day player.
For all this to happen, it’s imperative that these teams don’t slip back to the same ordinariness.
It hasn’t been the case this year, at least. While Madhya Pradesh, which rose to the Super League with Rajasthan last year, have again made it to the knockouts, Rajasthan too qualified for the quarterfinals after thrashing Orissa in their last league game. Both have set a trend that might be emulated more frequently by their ilk.