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Opinion - Iffy umpiring, dodgy pitches tarnish Ranji Trophy

With 36 Ranji teams playing multiple tournaments, quality takes a hit and mediocrity flourishes. Worse, the system fails the Rahul Dravid test of preparing players for international cricket and winning matches for India.

cricket Updated: Jan 30, 2019 08:35 IST
Amrit Mathur
Amrit Mathur
New Delhi
Ranji Trophy,Cheteshwar Pujara,Umpiring
Saurashtra batsman Cheteshwar Pujara plays a shot against Karnataka during the Ranji Trophy semifinal match in Bengaluru, Sunday, Jan 27, 2019(PTI)

The dramatic image makeover of India’s domestic structure is something spin doctors could only have dreamt about. Ranji Trophy, seemingly regressive in nature, was always the villain in Indian cricket. But some believe domestic cricket should get credit for creating the Indian team that is winning overseas.

This change though is more perception than reality. This season domestic cricket had a fair share of glitches, from scheduling (Mushtaq Ali pushed to the end, after the IPL auction) to eligibility rules (altered mid-session, bypassing the Sourav Ganguly-led BCCI Technical Committee) to dodgy tracks. Four matches ending in less than two days, despite having neutral curators, was a poor advertisement for domestic cricket.

Not to forget iffy umpiring, as in the Ranji semifinal where, apparently, Cheteshwar Pujara played more than the two innings he was entitled to. This raised questions, namely: Should Pujara, the gentleman that he is, have walked against Karnataka at the Chinnaswamy? Is domestic cricket umpiring really bad?

Answers to both are quite simple. Pujara won’t walk because nobody does, and as a professional, he will take a chance with a nick. The issue with umpiring is not just quality but intimidation and fear. In domestic cricket umpires are subjected to enormous pressure; also abused, sledged and humiliated. And it is a fact of life that umpires are scared of big players and think 10 times before giving leg before decisions against them.

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Plusses and minuses

Quality of play in domestic cricket remains a problem. With 36 Ranji teams playing multiple tournaments, quality takes a hit and mediocrity flourishes. Worse, the system fails the Rahul Dravid test of preparing players for international cricket and winning matches for India.

Hard evidence supports this position: Ravindra Jadeja with three first-class triple hundreds is not rated a specialist batsman. Paras Dogra, Samit Gohil, Sagan Kamat, Swapnil Gugale have scored triple centuries but are not contenders for representing India. Why is it that players dominating Ranji are not on the fringes of the Indian team?

But if the Indian team is doing well, then there must be some positives emerging from Ranji Trophy. Sample this:

#Too many teams in first class cricket ? Yes, but this means a bigger talent pool to choose from and opportunities for more players.

#Too many tournaments? Yes, but this means players develop skills needed for different formats and the grind prepares them for tougher battles.

Promises fulfilled

Still, there is little doubt about positive change. The IPL transformed cricket by importing latest technology and knowledge, bringing best practices from across the world to Ranji dressing rooms. Because of that, Indian domestic players are technically stronger, physically fitter and possess a fearless mindset.

Effectively, a Bumrah and Kuldeep embraced international cricket effortlessly. A Prithvi Shaw transitioned from under-19 to Tests in 12 months and youngsters Shubhman Gill and Khaleel Ahmed are very promising India players.

It is this talent that keeps Indian cricket in good health. UP’s Rinku Singh (953 runs at an average of 105, four hundreds), Rajasthan’s left-arm quick Tanveer-ul-Haq (51 wickets) are two who made great sacrifices and overcame incredible odds to grab spotlight.

But some results point to fault lines in the system.

Kerala defeated Gujarat (Ranji winners in 2017) dismissing them twice in 80 overs. Later, Kerala, playing at home, lasted a mere 54 overs against Vidarbha, the five-day semifinal ending after lunch on day 2! Rajasthan blew away Tripura for 35 runs in less than 20 overs !

Only when domestic cricket becomes truly mainstream -- with quality, respect and recognition -- will its makeover be complete.

(The writer is a senior sports administrator. Views are personal)

First Published: Jan 30, 2019 08:29 IST