Win the toss, bag the match
Generally one must beat the opposition to qualify for the next round; a draw is never good enough. But in all probability a draw will do the job in this year's Ranji Trophy semi-finals. Both matches, though at neutral and Test venues, are being played on flat batting surfaces where the toss almost decided the outcome of the game. These are perfect win-the-toss-and-bat-first conditions. And to make matters worse for the team losing the toss, the match is only a four-day game and a first-innings lead is adequate to decide the match.
When you know that you don't have to bowl the opposition out twice to ensure a place in the final, the approach while batting changes, especially when batting first. One wouldn't want to force the issue as time is never going to be a concern. One must bat on and on for as long as they possibly can and try to bat the opposition out of the game.
There are two aspects of posting a big first-innings total. Scoring anything in excess of 400 would consume a lot of time and then, whether the opposition manages to chase it or falls short, the reply would also take a lot of time. So, by the time each team has batted once, regardless of who gets the lead, it would be near the end of the third day's play. Now, with only a day to play none of the teams would be able to set up the match for a desired result. A five-day match for the knockout stages would therefore be preferable. It's unbelievable what those three extra sessions on a wearing fifth day wicket could do to the outcome of the game.
We, Delhi, conceded a fifty runs first-innings lead in the final but since it was a five day game we knew there might just be enough to get even by the end and we did. One could argue that even a five-day match won't produce a result on such good surfaces. That too is a factor and it brings us to the state of the pitches.
Personally, I think there are few types of tracks which could ensure good cricket. The ideal track would assist the quick bowlers on day one and partially on day two as well, becomes a good batting surface on days two and three and starts helping the spinners on days four and five. But that seems like asking for too much especially in first-class cricket. So the next best option would be to either have a track where the ball does a lot in the first innings, say days one and two, ensuring that both the first innings are wrapped up relatively quickly (I dare not suggest the track provided for Delhi-Orissa game where the match got over in 120 overs), or a track where the batsmen make merry for the first two days before the spinners take over the proceedings for the remainder of the game.
But what we're witnessing in the ongoing semi-finals is the regular kind of track we're used to seeing in India. The track was good to bat on at the start and remains to be equally conducive for batting till the end, with just a hint of spin creeping in, but still, far from doing enough to force a result within four days.
A five-day match and a slightly more responsive surface might just do the trick at this level.
PS: My book Beyond the Blues is releasing on January 8, so please wish me luck.