Indian domestic cricket October 12, 2010

Don't let domestic tournaments die

Genuine efforts must be made to sustain a potentially successful property; not only to safeguard its sanctity, but also to keep both the players and the viewers hooked

A fiery Sreesanth bowled a rather fine delivery, and in his follow-through, tried to intimidate the batsman. Unfortunately for him, the batsman happened to be Sachin Tendulkar who got stuck into Sreesanth. What followed was a flurry of boundaries as the rookie was shown his place in the man's world. Another game, this time in Mohali; young Piyush Chawla came out of nowhere to breach the master's defence with his googly. He immediately became a household name and the player for the future. After all he had dismissed Tendulkar.

This is the story of the Challenger trophy on two different occasions. The tournament was introduced to give the best 36 in the country, a chance to play against each other under lights. It was as close as one could get to play an international match against or with the top stars. The Challenger trophy grew in stature as people started flocking the stadiums and even the broadcaster got decent numbers. Since other 50-over domestic tournaments are rarely played under lights and to packed houses, it was a wonderful opportunity for the youngsters. While for the selectors, it was a chance to have a first-hand knowledge of the young and upcoming cricketers in the country.

The Corporate Trophy, another tournament introduced by the BCCI last year, too had a lot of potential and benefits, both on the field and off it. It involved all the big corporate teams in the country, and hence ensured not only a good competition, but also jobs for a lot of cricketers. The tournament rules meant that companies had to start employing players through the sports-quota and not make do with players playing for them on stipend. And for the big corporate houses, especially those who are already involved in the IPL, like Reliance and India Cements, it meant doing something worthwhile outside the IPL.

This is the story of two successful 50-overs domestic tournaments which promised and delivered, yet fizzled out in due course of time. The reason isn't hard to pin down - this year's edition of the Challenger trophy is played at a time when India is locking horns with Australia in a Test series, meaning that the best 16 players would not be available to participate in the tournament. The timing of the tournament has defeated the very purpose of its inception. Since playing under lights is no longer a catch for the domestic player, post the IPL, the only lure is to compete with the stalwarts, an opportunity the Challenger Trophy offered. After all how difficult would it be to find a four-day window to hold one of the most important domestic tournaments?

And then the case of the Corporate Trophy which involved more teams this year; however bigger is not always better. All the teams played three consecutive 50-over games in three days, with the top team in each group making it to the knockouts. How does one expect the quality of cricket to be good when you play every day? Obviously some of the games became a drag and failed to produce quality cricket. It shouldn't come as a surprise if some of these teams choose not to take part next year.

The point is simple - genuine efforts must be made to sustain a potentially successful property; not only to safeguard its sanctity, but also to keep both the players and the viewers hooked. And if the calendar doesn't allow a show, dump it, otherwise it becomes obligatory and lacklustre.

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