November 7, 2008

Safe and sorry

Not many teams go all out in the first few rounds of the Ranji Trophy

The first round of the Ranji Trophy threw up only a few outright results. Most of the games petered out into dull draws, and the teams that got the first-innings lead were happy with the outcome of their opening match.

A lot of teams choose to be more conservative in their first few games just to get their bearings right. And it reflects in the way they prepare the track for the game, their approach, and intent especially while batting. We have seen, in the ongoing India-Australia series, that the pitch plays an important role in deciding the outcome even if the bowling attacks have enough quality to take 20 wickets. The batting has been of high quality, but the pitches have played their role in the draws.

That is never the case in domestic cricket. Each side has only about a couple of genuine wicket-taking bowlers. It takes more than two such bowlers to take 20 wickets, including help from the track.

Another interesting factor during the first round was the scoring-rates. We all keep a close eye on how the other teams are faring, especially the ones in our group. The scores were almost identical, with the scoring-rate hovering around three an over.

Our game – against Punjab – was no different. Since we had already played a couple of games this season and our team has a settled look, we tried to produce a result-oriented pitch with a lot of grass on the surface. The idea was to give enough to the quicker bowlers to make an impact. With Punjab also relying heavily on their seam bowling, it was a gamble. With our strong batting line-up, we were ready to punt.

Unfortunately the pitch didn't offer half as much as we'd expected. After the first hour or so, it turned out to be a rather good batting surface. The scoring-rate never went past three an over, and on a good batting surface with a quick outfield, it made for some not-so-pleasant viewing. I would give the batsmen the benefit of doubt since it's the first match of the season, and they are just being more cautious, which is only to be expected.

The approach also depends on how you are placed in the team. If you are trying to make a mark and cement your place, your approach is more risk-free, and if your place is certain and your feet are moving well, you play with aggression and flair.

Punjab, like most teams would, just batted and batted without actually doing the damage in terms of runs, or at least not in the same proportion to the amount of time spent at the crease. They never shifted gears, and not once did they even attempt to dominate the attack, even when their batsmen were well set.

Once the team has batted nearly 140 overs in a four-day game, the other team must bat very badly to produce an outright result. And we didn’t bat badly, so the draw was inevitable. Even though we maintained a healthy run-rate of about four throughout our innings, there was never enough time to force a result.

The last day of the game was just a formality, and it makes me wonder if we could do away with this kind of boring last days. Only the batsmen stand to benefit from that phase of play. They might just get a first-class century, which would add up to their season's tally, but those figures are often misleading. More importantly there shouldn't be an easy first-class century for anyone. With nothing to play for on the last day, I wouldn't blame the bowlers for not putting in the desired effort. I tried as many as eight bowlers in order to give my main bowlers much-needed rest: the next game starts in three days’ time.

Perhaps the next round will produce more entertaining cricket, and with that more results.

Before I finish, I would like to add something: I was a little amused to see the reaction to my last post. So I thought I should communicate to my readers the reasons for writing what I wrote, and feeling for what I felt.

For a moment please forget it was me or my Delhi team-mates who didn't get the tickets. Take the case of a 65-year-old ex-cricketer living on a modest pension in the outskirts of Delhi, say Najafgarh. He happens to be an avid follower of the game, and is waiting for his ticket so that he can go to the ground and watch the game. For all we know, he may not have the money or the means to go to the nearest ticket counter to buy the ticket. The less we talk about the money cricketers used to get those days the better.

Should he be needed to do what a lot of people suggested me to do - buy a ticket and watch the game? The man in his 60s served his state and the game for years. So what did he play for? My guess is the love of the game, and the special brotherhood and community that we all share.

I'll leave the decision to you.


Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here