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Let me make it clear at the outset that I’m neither authorised nor qualified to figure whether Services were justified in refusing to play their Ranji Trophy game against Jammu & Kashmir, in Srinagar. Or whether the BCCI was right in disqualifying the team. I’m writing this just to share the plight of my fellow cricketers.
A player spends a lot of time preparing for the first-class season. It is, therefore, both demoralising and frustrating to be told that his toil during the off- and pre-season has been in vain. And that he must wait a year to make a mark at the national level. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what this ban has done. Not only does it mean that players like Yashpal Singh won’t get a chance to score runs in the Ranji Trophy this year, it has also put an end to the team’s hopes of making it to the knockouts (which means promotion to the Super League), and any player's chance of being picked for North Zone. In these times, a year’s gap pushes you back at least a few seasons because of the intense competition. You are expected to start afresh next season, by which time a lot of players would have cemented their place in different sides.
The Ranji Trophy is also a platform to impress IPL teams, and this ban would now take even that opportunity away from the players. What makes it worse is that not only will players from the Services be deprived of an opportunity to play, but also that every other team in their group in the Plate League will play one match less in the league stage. One match, for teams who don’t qualify for the knockouts, makes up 20% of their first-class season, so players from these teams must perform exceptionally well over four games to be picked for zonal sides.
A cricketing colleague remarked that it was a mess of Services’ own making, that they had no business not turning up for a first-class game. Absolutely right, but what could the players have done once their association informed them that they were not going? The sad part about all this is that players seldom have a say in the decision making process. We are just told what to do and we comply.
If there has been a mistake, which is likely the case here, it demands punitive action. But while punishing the offender is justified, maybe it’s unfair to make the players pay the price. The Ranji Trophy has just turned 75, and it’s a pity if cricket and cricketers are the losers in this.
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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.