Indian domestic cricket February 15, 2010

It's not the quantity, it's the quality

Weaker Indian state teams need to become more competitive in order to preserve the sanctity of domestic cricket

"If you don’t have a good enough team to compete then you must hire professionals to make one" © Cricinfo Ltd

A couple of years ago, Wasim Akram, when asked about Indian domestic structure, remarked - “To improve the standard of cricket, India must reduce the number of teams playing in the Ranji Trophy."

He went on to observe that India "were sacrificing quality for quantity". Well, I beg to differ with him on this. While I acknowledge that it is imperative to have a strong domestic set-up, one also needs to understand the dynamics of this country. We are a nation of a billion people with cricket as our religion. Obviously then we need a bigger platform to accommodate its students.

Wasim’s comments perhaps stem from his appreciation for the strong Australian and South African domestic models with only six teams apiece. While the set-up has proved to be a success in these countries, in India it might well filter out talent from the heap rather than identifying and nurturing it. Let’s face it, a total of 27 teams in the Ranji Trophy amounts to just about 297 playing members from a pool of thousands across the length and breadth of the country. Trimming these figures down would well mean snatching away of crucial opportunities.

Quality, undeniably, is a huge concern, and the BCCI has by and large taken measures to ensure just that. State teams can now field up to three professionals in the playing XI. The onus is on the state associations to make use of this opportunity along with the funds provided by the BCCI.

Talking quality, teams in the Plate League are often criticised for the lack of it. Some feel that they deserve to be kept in that division for their sheer non-performance. At one level it’s absolutely just that they bear the repercussions of not improving as a state team but at another level their poor standard isn’t good for the health of the game in India. Also if the teams in the Plate League don’t progress, the Zonal one-day matches, which are currently in progress, would also lose its relevance.

I’d stick to my suggestion of having three groups of nine teams. Instead of just a couple of teams swapping places, a good idea would be to have three teams getting relegated and promoted every season. Teams who don’t show any signs of improvement in terms of results and producing good cricketers should not only be relegated but also be slapped with a financial penalty. The process is quite straight forward: if you don’t have a good enough team to compete then you must hire professionals to make one. Assam did exactly the same thing in the ongoing first-class season and was successful. They not only topped their group but also qualified for the quarter-finals. With that they have ensured a place in the Elite League for the next season. It’s time for others to follow suit.

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