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The first round of the Ranji Trophy this season kicked off amid much fanfare. Uttar Pradesh defeated a star-studded Delhi team, taking many by surprise. A keen Delhi follower, after reading out the Delhi line-up, announced this team was good enough to face any international side. Not one to jump the gun, I politely told him that putting one across a competent domestic team like UP was likely to stretch them. Fortunately, the pitch in Ghaziabad had something in it for everyone on all four days. In the end, the team that won was the team that outplayed the other, made possible only because of a sporting pitch.
It was also during the first round that another widely-watched game took place in Mumbai, involving Sachin Tendulkar. The match was between Mumbai and a weaker Railways team. As expected, Mumbai held the upper hand in a game that turned out to be a dull draw.
But, still, the first round did throw up some exciting outright results. The second round, though, seems to have made a mockery of the BCCI's brief to the curators for preparing sporting pitches. Two triple-centuries were scored in the second round and in as many as four matches the first innings didn't finish until tea on the fourth day. The match involving UP again drew the most attention, this time for all the wrong reasons. Maharashtra, on a highway, scored 764 in a little over two days, and U.P. couldn't even finish their first innings in the remaining time. What a sad advertisement for the sport!
Pitches remain the most pressing concern for the betterment of Indian cricket. But while changing the nature of certain surfaces and mastering the art of preparing pitches that produce an outright result may take some time, there's something else I'll suggest to make things more interesting in the interim. How about revamping the points system to nullify the significance of taking first-innings lead? How about finding a way to penalise teams for batting for two days?
Here's what I propose for the overhauling of the points system:
Batting and bowling points
Teams should get batting and bowling points for scoring runs and taking wickets, but with a little twist.
* The batting team shall gain the first batting point after scoring 125 runs, and a point for every 75 runs they score thereafter.
* There will be a maximum of five batting points to be achieved, which means a total of 425 shall be scored to gain maximum points. But this comes with a small rider--batting points would be available only till the 125thover, which will ensure that batting team will have to maintain a healthy run-rate of 3.4 runs per over throughout.
* There will one bowling point gained for every two wickets that the bowling team takes. So that's a maximum of five bowling points up for grabs in the innings.
* Unlike the batting points, bowling points will be available till the time opponents are willing to bat.The advantage of this system is that batting teams will be encouraged to score their runs at a better clip, and will be discouraged to bat beyond the 125th over because only the bowling team can gain points past that stage. Also, most teams would be happy to declare when the side is nine down, than give bowling teams a chance.
At this stage we can add a couple of points for the first-innings lead as well.
Since there won't be too many overs left to play in the match, the points system shall change slightly for the second innings.
* There will only be three batting points available (first point at 125 runs and two more at subsequent 75 runs), but the points will be available only till the 60th over.
* As in the first innings, there'll be a maximum of five bowling points available (one point for two wickets) till the batting team bats.
* In the end there'll be a bonus of 10 points for an outright win, which shall be added to the overall tally of the points accumulated by the winning team in that match. While the winning team's kitty would be overflowing, there'll be something for the losing team too, since they'll hang on to their batting/bowling points.
In the current set-up, the losing team walks away empty handed and is therefore always wary of taking risks. The knowledge of taking home substantial points even from a game that they've lost would encourage teams to go that extra yard.
In the current points system, an outright win is revered because of the difference in points gained (six for an outright win and one bonus point for winning with an innings or 10 wickets). Still, that doesn't seem like a good-enough reason for teams (especially the weaker ones) to avoid dishing out a highway, bat for as long as possible and prevent an outright result.
© 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.