November 7, 2008

Safe and sorry

Aakash Chopra
A lone spectator watches the proceedings from a section of the ground at Mohali, Punjab v Orissa, Ranji Trophy Super League, Group A, 6th round, Chandigarh, 3rd day, December 19, 2007
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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.

Cheers

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

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Posted by Ranjit on (November 19, 2008, 4:15 GMT)

Mr. Chopra true to expectations you did not consider it fit to publish my grouse Badani did it. censorship does not help! Wanted to ask Akash why Sadagoppan Ramesh was never taken into the team during the Australian tour of (under Ganguly, what Ganguly did to Ramesh, divine retribution got him out of the team deservingly) even though he was much more successful than the ones selected to open the innings in Test. Was it discrimination against a Southie much like how Gavaskar ensured the most exciting opener(of those days) T.E.Srinivasan from the '92 team. One can cite discrimination to Lala Amarnath days when VV Kumar the best leg spinner (better than Gupte) non selection or P. Ramesh the ideal partner for Gavaskar overlooked for butter fingured Ramnath Parkar. Thankfully atleast now some members of Indian team seem to be open. Akash Chopra will not answer this since it is rumoured it was Rohan Gavaskar(ODI) for Chopra(tests) plan of Gavaskar that kept out Ramesh. So address this first.

Posted by svramani on (November 11, 2008, 14:29 GMT)

hi akash so nice to read ur articles.i still cherish umpiring for u in lots of ranji games and was relly njoying every moent and movement of ur batting.i still remember the white towel tucked in ur pants and the commitment you had for the game.as i recntly retired from first class umpiring my thoughts go back to all the wonderful time i had on the field especialy on those december mornings in delhi.im sure u will remeber the lead ur team conceded to j&k in a ranji game at the kotla.raman lamba was also plying that game.when we sit back and think we relly know what a wonderful game cricket is.like u said it is very important to know other parts of our country which has some wonderful places to visit and also so much to learn.wishing u and ur team membrs a very happy stay in hydrabad and may the message of good will and spirit of cricket reach all corners of india. bye

Posted by Aditya Mookerjee on (November 9, 2008, 8:29 GMT)

In my humble opinion, more than the excitement in cricket, the process of cricket should be engrossing. The spectator who is watching the match, should be a part of the match, every bit as much as the player. One sees this a lot in school cricket. When I was watching an inter school cricket match, the match was more important than an India Pakistan encounter, in those days. One must feel the same way towards The Ranji Trophy fixtures.

Posted by Rohan on (November 9, 2008, 6:01 GMT)

Aakash, I was one of those readers that criticised your column for the ticket thing. I understand what you wanted to say now. Its a shame that the authorities havent changed at all. Even though the money has started to roll in, still the authorities are not eager to give way of the old habits. I believe the players association should take control of these matters from the Delhi/BCCI association. After all it hurts to see or even know about such situations where players who have done so much for the state are treated in such way. Pitches need to be bowler friendly as that is the real challenge for the batsman. Not these flat beds, 20 wickets can only be taken if there is some help for the bowlers in the pitch. Its an exciting contest, i rather watch a 3 day test match like the one in mumbai (aus vs india) rather then a run fest of a draw.

Posted by venkat on (November 8, 2008, 19:24 GMT)

Akash, a simple questions. Why are games that are played on neutral venues so low scoring? The semi finals and the finals of last years ranji trophy were played on neutral venues and they never produced big scores. In fact till gambhir, produced that magnificent century the final was as interesting as any test match i have seen. The solution is simple, any stadium or wicket that produces so many runs should be barred from hosting further matches. And of course we should reduce the number of teams competing for the ranji trophy. Of course all this will never happen. This is Indian cricket and the BCCI that we are talking about. But i shall continue dreamin

Posted by Preshant Sekar on (November 8, 2008, 14:36 GMT)

Great article and spot on.The pitches in India (even for test matches) are ill-prepared and and non result oriented.Its high time the curators came out of the T-20 mindset.

Posted by Paraa Sakthivel on (November 8, 2008, 13:26 GMT)

Yup.Bcci should seriously consider making the domestic game more popular and bring it to public viewing.For ex,in places like England,Australia even the domestic teams have certain amount of following and fans but in india no body bothers to watch the domestic cricket.Bcci has to be blamed for this,only after getting an alarm of ICL,they have managed to bring the concept of IPL.Domestic first class structure has to be re-engineered completely

Posted by Nipun Jain on (November 7, 2008, 22:37 GMT)

Hello Aakash! well said ... ! I wonder all these years (at least in the past decade) there have been talks among cricket fraternity to make fast pitches for Ranji games giving bowlers an even chance against batsman dominated game but that has never really happened. I believe as an avid lover of the same that such pitches will help seamers to learn a lot from ranji games played on such pitches and channelise that experience on faster austalian, south african tracks later in their careers playinf for India. I just hope that better snses will play and we will get to see better pitches and more aggression at this level as well. Regarding your last lines, I agree with you that as a mark of respect and souveneir, every senior cricker should have the privilege to come and watch the match on the ground, they have played, lived and cherished the game.

Posted by Shefali on (November 7, 2008, 19:21 GMT)

Hi Aakash, well done with Delhi getting the lead in the first game. I wish it was imposed on the State Assosiations to make sporting wickets, that would not only help the players test their skills but also bring fans to the ground. No one wants to go to a Ranji game and see each team pile up 500 on the board and play for a 1st innings lead. An even contest between bat and ball is of utmost importance, its a shame to see average batsmen playing good bowlers with ease, the bowlers need encouragement too. Good fast bowlers at domestic level can inspire a whole new generation of hopefulls. It's high time the BCCI does something about the pitches. It is also important for teams to play for a win, and if you loose the odd match so be it,you live.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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