Opinion - The harsh reality of India’s first-class cricket
For players, Ranji is reduced to an IPL trial, a long four-month audition for a short six-week role.Updated: Feb 13, 2019 09:15 IST
Another Ranji season has ended and daylight cricket is over and out. Time to switch gears, replace red ball with white and put on splashy coloured clothing instead of sober whites. Coming up next in the business end of the year—the blockbuster IPL, with right of admission reserved for the big boys.
Ranji is a tough grind but life is good for players. The extended season, now that North-east teams are playing, forces players to lead a nomadic life, living out of suitcases and eating room service meals. But it is an opportunity nobody wants to pass. Every kid who swings a bat dreams of making it, and first class cricket holds out hope of a game-changing career option.
For players, Ranji trophy is financially a sweet deal. Rs 35,000 rupees for each match day is not bad - it’s more than what most Indians earn in a month. Not to forget other perks of office: air travel and five-star hotel stay. Plus the big prize: possibility of landing an IPL contract.
Still, the life of a domestic player isn’t that good, and not as glamorous as it looks. With too many chasing too few slots survival is tough. Failure rate is high and those committing their future to cricket do so knowing there is no fall back option. It is a tight rope walk with no safety net underneath to arrest a fall.
DAILY WAGE EARNERS
Even match fees comes with many ‘conditions apply’ clauses, the fine print making cricket a high risk game. Domestic cricketers have NO financial security because they are paid only if selected. The BCCI awards annual contracts to top Indian players (highest slab: 7 crores), the IPL offers a season deal (highest contract: 17 crores) but 1,000 Ranji players are daily wage earners of the BCCI. They exist on the edge of a slippery financial slope, living match to match, day to day.
It is this harsh reality of Ranji that makes IPL so attractive. For players, Ranji is reduced to an IPL trial, a long four-month audition for a short six-week role. The first-class structure is completely subverted and Ranji, a stepping stone for Test cricket, is now just a convenient ladder to reach IPL’s basket of goodies. Which is excellent for players but disastrous for cricket because the system throws up many Pandyas but no Pujara!
Any system resting on a foundation of cash is vulnerable to abuse and corruption. Already, whispers circulate in dressing rooms about cricket’s selection bazaar specially at the junior level and a grey economy growing at an impressive rate.
Another concern, voiced by an experienced pro, is ignorance about training methods and fitness needs. Suddenly, everyone is building muscle and doing exercises unrelated to cricket requirements. Fashion is driving fitness and it’s no surprise that injuries have increased.
Not that all is wrong with first class cricket. Wickets are better because of BCCI’s neutral curators, there are more outright results with bowling attacks built round three medium pacers who bowl disciplined lines. But the larger question is about first class cricket itself: will Ranji be the nursery responsible for developing cricket or a crutch for the T20 format?
The BCCI has announced where they sit on this. It went unrepresented at the Ranji final as senior officials gave it a miss. The 2-crore prize money for Vidharbha is less than the IPL contract of Varun Chakravarty (Rs 8.4 crores) who has played one first class game to take one wicket @ 105 or of Prabhsimran Singh (Rs 4.8 crores ) who is yet to play a single match!
The writing is on the pitch!
(The author is a senior sports administrators and views are personal)
First Published: Feb 13, 2019 09:13 IST