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Is thriving in domestic cricket, scoring tons, and excelling in the longer format any good, after all? I am beginning to wonder, for let's face it, the franchises, understandably, care a zilch about your scores in the Ranji Trophy. A player could have well put on view both the temperament and the technique essential to succeed in the coveted championship, but it is still not enough to bag a ticket to the IPL.
But, that's not the league's fault, you may say. It's a Twenty20 championship that requires a particular skill set, which some domestic cricketers may or may not possess. And hasn't the IPL anyway picked up many a domestic players and made stars out of them in a span of just three years? While I don't dispute that, there's still an issue lurking, almost lost, in the whiff of the aromatic IPL. It involves that crop of players who are not suited to play the slam-bang cricket, and who are beginning to wonder if playing and excelling in the IPL is bigger than representing their state in domestic cricket.
Till a few years ago, a domestic player played for peanuts, while the recognition for his skill was even lesser. All that mattered was to play for the country, while everything else was either inconsequential or simply stop-gap. But the IPL changed it all. Besides being ever so lucrative, and a sure-shot way to instant stardom, it actually, and quite bafflingly, became a parameter to judge a player for national selection.
What makes matters worse for these domestic players, who are stamped as "Test players", and ignored by the league on this very pretext, is that they are now being looked right through even for a selection to the higher berths, in spite of prospering in the Ranji Trophy. These players are pigeonholed to play a certain brand of cricket and nobody is willing to give them a fair run to showcase their talent in the shortest format. Their agony is doubled when they see their peers, some of them not even good enough to play for their state, stealing a march over them and enjoying plum IPL deals. Quite a double whammy.
Pity, they are contemplating a change in their batting style, becoming a tad too flashy, brazen, restless, and ever so aggressive, even if it means going for cheap in the "lacklustre" longer format. But, even as they do get swept off by the winds of change, they continue to feel as insecure as they did a few years ago. Nothing, not the IPL, not even the Ranji Trophy, has succeeded in making these rather brilliant players feel safe.
A place in the Ranji side is as unpredictable as the outcome of the next innings, for past laurels can only take a player so far. While the pay packets for Ranji players have gotten better, their chances of getting a promotion haven't. My question, though, is larger - Why has playing in the IPL become so important? So much so, that it is either as good as playing for the country or not playing cricket at all. Think over.
© 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.