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Six different trophies, three different formats, all crammed up into a five- month window - India’s domestic season runs at a breakneck speed. To make matters a wee bit tougher for the players, only a three-day breather is granted between first-class matches (in the league phase) and even lesser between the shorter formats.
Perhaps, one wouldn’t have whined over this ‘cricket congestion’ if it had served the purpose it had accidentally set for itself. One would assume that a choc-a-block schedule like this, might amount to teams and players getting a lot more games to showcase their talent. Unfortunately though, this isn’t exactly how it transpires on the ground.
Would you believe if I were to tell you that quite a few teams/players play only five first-class matches in these five months - a match a month? And those five matches get over in five straight weeks. All hell would break loose if one gets injured or goes out of form during these five weeks. There’s hardly any scope of recuperating from an injury or regaining form in such a short time. Odds often stack up when time runs out.
To this crisis, add another five matches each of 50 overs, yet another set of pressure-laden Twenty20s and the team’s fortunes of an unyielding season get sealed.
This is pretty much the story of those teams playing in the Plate division, which unfortunately do not qualify for the knock-outs in all the three formats. There are eight such teams in the Plate division which is nearly a third of the total number of teams (27) playing in the Ranji Trophy.
But things are quite different for the teams that make up the Elite division. More number of teams in this division (15) mean more matches, and more matches in turn mean more chances of displaying and polishing one’s skill. Six teams out of 15 in the Elite division qualify for the knock-outs as opposed to two from 12 in the Plate division. Also, players playing in the Elite division get noticed a lot more which in turn brightens up their chances of getting a place in the Zonal side for the Duleep Trophy. All of this puts the this division players on a higher pedestal, something which perhaps has hitherto not been taken into account.
In my opinion, talent without opportunities is as bad as having no talent at all. In order to give everyone equal number of outings, we must change the existing system of distinction between Elite and Plate division.
My suggestion would be to divide the 27 teams into three groups/divisions of nine teams each instead of the existing two. This set up would ensure each team play a minimum of eight first-class games. The winners could be decided through knock-outs. This revamped order is sure to consume more time and hence might even take a toll on the Duleep Trophy. Yet, it would be an idea worth a thought. After all, the Duleep Trophy is also a knock-out tournament and only one team can play three games, i.e. the team playing the quarter-finals also ends up playing the finals. The rest play either one or two games at the most.
Counterparts in Australia and South Africa host 10 first-class games for each team, while the number shoots up to 16 in England. The idea is simply to provide the players with a) equal and ample opportunities to showcase their talent, and b) a less complicated roaster which leaves the players the time to recover and get back.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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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.