October 23, 2012

Indian domestic cricket

A tepid start minus the stars

Aakash Chopra
Mohammad Kaif congratulates Jalaj Saxena on a wicket, Central Zone v East Zone, Duleep Trophy final, 2nd day, Chennai
Starting the season with the Duleep Trophy defies logic  © K Sivaraman
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In many ways this is a unique first-class season in India. For starters, the format has undergone a massive overhauling, with every team now getting a minimum of eight matches. The Duleep Trophy will now be held before the Ranji season starts in November and the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (T20), quite rightly, will be conducted at the end of the season and just before the IPL.

Oddly though, there's something equally unexpected transpiring at ground zero within most first-class teams. For the first time, a lot of the players/coaches are secretly wishing for their star players' teams playing the Duleep Trophy, Champions League etc to lose! It's bizarre because the same people who took pride when a few among them went a step further to represent their zone and an IPL franchise are now hoping that their respective team loses. It certainly isn't out of a grudge for the more fortunate lot; in fact they still want their wards and peers to do well. But they also want them to be back as soon as possible.

The fact is, the Ranji Trophy is serious business, much more serious than the IPL, Duleep Trophy or the Champions League. If you don't believe me, visit any state association's ground right now and you'll see the dedication and complete devotion towards preparing for the season. While the IPL teams get together a week before the tournament, zonal sides for the Duleep Trophy meet directly at the venue. Compare this with a month (or more) long camp with at least six hours of training every day for a Ranji Trophy team before the season.

While the Ranji camps are in full swing, the soul has been sucked right out of these camps because the men who make all the difference for these state teams are either busy representing the zonal sides or are in South Africa honing their T20 skills. Delhi has lost almost their entire squad, including the coach to both these tournaments, and hence it didn't come as a surprise when their officials spoke on record that they wished for their early exits.

Many state teams, as an essential part of the process, have also brought in different agencies to conduct programs on 'Mental toughness', 'Goal setting' and 'Team building'. Unfortunately, with the main building blocks of the team away, it's the guys who are unlikely to be a part of the eventual squad who are participating in these programs.

While CLT20 is a different beast and its scheduling doesn't fall under the Technical Committee's purview, one can't say the same about the Duleep Trophy. Was it really necessary to hold this tournament just ten days ahead of the season? Earlier, the Duleep Trophy was held at the end of the Ranji season and worked as a just reward. But now, one has to wait several months of no competitive cricket to start the next season with the Duleep Trophy. There must be some sound logic in making this shift, but I'm yet to discover that. Feel free to chip in with your guesses.

Since we're discussing the Duleep Trophy it's worth mentioning that the timing of this tournament isn't the only thing that has changed this season, for the ball with which it was played for the last few seasons has also been shelved for this year's edition. A few years ago, at Rahul Dravid's behest the BCCI had introduced the Kookaburra ball for the Duleep Trophy. The reason for playing with the Kookaburra and not the traditional SG Test ball was that our players found the going a little tough in overseas conditions, and the Kookaburra used in most countries had a significant role to play in our predicament. Sachin Tendulkar had gone a step further to suggest that we should even consider using the Kookaburra ball in the second innings of every Ranji game. Obviously, he also saw merit in making the Indian players familiar with the Kookaburra much in advance.

In case you're wondering what sets apart a Kookaburra from an SG Test, since both the balls are of the same color, shape and weigh exactly the same, here's a crash course on the differences--the new Kookaburra ball has a more pronounced seam and moves appreciably in the air. On the contrary, the SG Test ball, even with its pronounced seam, starts moving only when one side becomes slightly rough. The Kookaburra doesn't swing or seam even half as much once it gets old and hence the only way to make the ball talk is by hitting the deck hard. Well, it's quite the opposite with the older SG Test ball, for it swings appreciably the whole day. Another significant difference is that as the Kookaburra ball gets old, its seam gets embedded on the surface and makes it difficult for finger spinners. But the seam remains pronounced throughout on the SG ball and hence even finger spinners can impart more revolutions and get more purchase off the surface.

These subtle differences are actually not so subtle when it comes to adjusting and modifying your game accordingly in quick time. There was merit in organizing a tete-e-tete between the cream of Indian cricket and the Kookaburra ball.

The flip side of using the Kookaburra ball was that it responds best on hard and bouncy pitches and hence it wasn't as productive on the surfaces where the Duleep Trophy was played. Perhaps, playing only once a year wasn't enough to know the finer nuances of the workings of the ball and remember them too. But instead of addressing the bigger issues, which are the 'non-responsive surfaces' and not enough game time with the Kookaburra, we have dumped the ball. Instead of finding out why the idea hasn't worked, we have scrapped the idea itself. The reasons better be profound.

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

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Posted by Robin Sen on (December 1, 2012, 19:17 GMT)

Aakash..brilliant article and not wasted on the readers as this piece will appeal to the non T20 crowd and those who understand the game. BCCI is run bymen with little experience of playing the game. Seems like a 'job for the boys' scenario. Unlikely anyone from the BCCI will reakashd this, let alone appreciate it. The top honchos at BCCI should be fulltime employees (not that they need the money) with plenty of time to handle all that is required. Totally absurd that until 3 years ago, they did not have a web site??!! Even my window cleaner ( Oily Harry..he only has one hand which iss always dirty) had a web site before the BCCI. Anyway, keep up the good work Aakash.

Posted by Leslie Aloysious on (October 28, 2012, 6:37 GMT)

Well assessed, Aakash. Earlier, the best performers in Ranji used to be automatically selected for Duleep trophy and the best here for the Irani Trophy. Now, the best in T20 and last year's heroes who might be off color this season become automatic choices for Duleep and Irani. As a result, the worthy loses their chance to gain visibility.

There are obviously some steps in the right direction. But unless 75% of the matches are played on green tops and square turners, Indian batsmen will keep flopping abroad as usual as we see now in T20 in SA. Ranji was the most bowler friendly under Vensarkar, which brought results abroad, so let us just hope visionaries come at the top and take a leaf off marshall...

Posted by soulcurry on (October 27, 2012, 11:30 GMT)

There are "pundits", then there are pundits, then there are experts & then there is Akash Chopra. Always very insightful, easily comprehendable style, and always 'hitting the deck' with the readers. Great work Akash, keep doing. Thanks.

Posted by Harshavardhan on (October 27, 2012, 4:43 GMT)

As always, great analysis. I've always wanted to know, whats the ball the English use(If I remember correctly, its the Duke or something of that sort right?)? Is it similar to the kookaburra?

Also, is it time we encouraged more players to travel overseas during non-Ranji times to participate in the domestic 4/5 day tournaments of other countries? I know for a fact that English domestic teams, unlike Indian teams, allow foreign players to play,is that the case with the Aussies and the RSA as well?

Posted by kevin martin on (October 26, 2012, 21:46 GMT)

From an Indian-born cricket tragic and writer now settled in Australia let me say Akash that I look forward to your articles with a keen sense of anticipation. I'm always impressed by: a) the level of technicality and analysis you bring to each piece and(b)how clearly and simply, yet straightforward, you state your case. Congratulations on making a perfect seque: from making the bat speak to letting the pen do the talking now; although, these days, one hardly equates one's keyboard with a pen.

Posted by Sitanshu on (October 26, 2012, 13:23 GMT)

Aakash, great job.

Instead of having the first innings lead as a decider, why not have the point system which is similar to that used in County Cricket. Have certain amount of points for scoring a certain number of runs and taking wickets. And then add certain number of points for scoring at a certain run rate. Things would get a little complicated, but ensure that we don't have borefests.

Also, I must add that I do not like the new structure of Ranji. I would much prefer the structure of the last two seasons. But, ideally we should have something similar to county cricket.

Posted by Megha Sinha on (October 26, 2012, 12:51 GMT)

My guide to Indian grassroot Cricket. Eagerly waiting for your next piece Sir!

Posted by Vishal on (October 26, 2012, 7:51 GMT)

Agree with the points here. Would just like to add that coincidentally the Duleep Trophy might help in preparing some of the players for the home series against England. But I hope the players who did well also get rewarded by getting selected. And I wish players like Sehwag and Gambhir preferred Duleep over CLT20.

Posted by Nitesh on (October 26, 2012, 6:37 GMT)

Hello Akash,

Very nice article and good read too! I like the way put your thoughts on the paper and the choice of words.

I have one question for you. Since this was the introducton of Kookaburra ball in Duleep Trophy and in India.

Was it the reason behind Dinda's match winning performance of a hostile spell of 26 for 7 wickets in 13 overs?

Kind regards, Nitesh

Posted by Sisir on (October 25, 2012, 5:16 GMT)

Nice Article Akash but was wondering if both the kookubura and SG are of same make and size what makes them behave differently? I believe it might be the pitches, Outfield, the moisture in air, the wind and the way players handle the ball which dictates the behavior... Having the Duleep trophy at the start of season would give the necessary match prep for the players...they would get into the test match groove and would be match ready from Day 1. I also feel the 1st innings lead rule is a wonderful concept, specially in India where the pitches are far to conducive to batting, yes we do end up with lot of draws but in most cases players play out of their skin to make sure they get the innings lead... it's wonderful to see batsman concentrate day in day out trying hard not to make mistake or throw their wicket away... similarly blowers have to strive hard, bring in variations and have to be patience for their wickets... It's wonderful!!!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aakash Chopra
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.

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