September 25, 2013

Two teams for Tamil Nadu and Karnataka?

The decline of two southern Indian teams may paradoxically have to do with a surfeit of talent, not a lack

Does Tamil Nadu, with only one Ranji team, suffer because of a surfeit of talent? © Sivaraman Kitta

"It's probably the water," said a visiting speaker, tongue-in-cheek and politically incorrect. "Maybe Tamil Nadu will start winning the Ranji Trophy once it receives enough Kaveri water." This was in response to a question about why the state was unable to translate talent into performance despite handsome support from corporates and the cricket administration. This was in 2002, at the launch of my book on Tamil Nadu cricket, and nothing much has changed since then.

Tamil Nadu last won the national championship in 1987-88, and that was only their second title since the tournament began in 1934. Of talent there seems no shortage in the state, and sportspersons below the international level do not have it better anywhere, at least in the subcontinent. In Chennai, a cricketer good enough to compete in the first division of the TNCA league is assured of livelihood security of a high order, excellent training and practice facilities, qualified coaches and physical trainers devoted to individual teams, and a systematic process of talent identification and promotion.

Coaches have come and gone, captains and team members have been handpicked and nurtured at the state level, the senior league matches are played over three days, there is no lack of the shorter-format games, and Chennai Super Kings has bred a new avatar of cricketer, one who is confident, innovative and introduced to winning ways by a dynamic captain. Yet the Ranji Trophy remains as elusive as ever.

Many reasons have been cited. They range from complacency, the result of being pampered, to the lack of the killer instinct endemic to a laidback lifestyle that does not require a young player to commute for miles in a packed train (as is famously the case in Mumbai) to get to daily net practice. One theory suggests that the trouble lies with the lack of consistency in selection, the excessive chopping and changing of personnel on the field and off it.

"I have watched Tamil Nadu in Ranji cricket for over 15 years, and it never plays the same XI for two consecutive matches," claims a supporter who has given up hope. Some critics accuse Tamil Nadu cricketers of arrogance, of being strangers to the team ethic of successful sides.

The other two leading sides in the south, Karnataka and Hyderabad, haven't fared much better in the last decade. Hyderabad have been national champions only twice, the first time, incredibly, after just one win in the season, and the next with a resounding, well-deserved triumph in 1986-87. Karnataka, the most competitive of the three, who did so well in the Prasanna-Chandrasekhar-Viswanath era, won their third title in 1982-83 and three more in the 1990s, with some extraordinary performances from Rahul Dravid and Vijay Bharadwaj in two finals. Their last victory, in 1998-99, was achieved in the absence of their Test stars, but Karnataka's subsequent form has generally been less than inspiring.

Paradoxically, with both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the drought may be the result of a surfeit of talent. If we stop to seek an out-of-the box solution to the problem, we might realise that both states have a strong cricket presence in their capital cities - though Bangalore cricket is less organised than Chennai cricket - and also a reasonable spread of players in their district centres. Selection of the state team in a scenario that offers a basket of urban and semi-urban talent could be fraught with the risk of leaning unevenly one way or the other.

Why then can we not have two teams in each of these states - Chennai and Tamil Nadu, and Bangalore and Karnataka? This way, more cricketers will have a chance to take part in the Ranji Trophy, while the selectors will breathe easier at not having to sacrifice deserving players to acute competition for places. There are so many such bifurcations - even trifurcations - in force in the national championship that it is a wonder that these two highly endowed states have not enjoyed such largesse from the apex body.

Maharashtra has three teams - Mumbai, Maharashtra and Vidarbha - and Gujarat has a similar number in Gujarat, Baroda and Saurashtra. Even Andhra Pradesh fields two - Andhra and Hyderabad - while in the north and north east, there is a new team every time a new state is born. This is to say nothing of the number of players from the capital region who turn out for neighbouring teams.

Most of the district players already playing in the Chennai or Bangalore leagues are forced by lack of opportunity to ply their trade outside their states. When despite all its faults the IPL has thrown up a serious crop of hitherto unknown youngsters capable of holding their own against proven international players, I see no reason why a similar efflorescence cannot result from the expansion of opportunities I recommend. Chennai and Bengaluru will probably outperform Tamil Nadu and Karnataka - but not for long. The mofussil lads will catch up soon enough.

V Ramnarayan is an author, translator and teacher. He bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vivek on September 27, 2013, 13:52 GMT

    Excellent article..this is what was in my mind frm past few years watchng k'tka's performance..their are lot more players outside bangalore who r waiting fr their chance.actually,in present ranji team more players r frm outside bangalore.then regarding cricket infrastructure in Blr,yes its true..nt that it is lack passion or talents instead bad infrastructure..but after kumble&co stepped in the KSCA i believe changes r going..they r encouraging cricket in rural areas too.nw conducting ind-wi A matches in small towns like Shimoga,hubli,mysore is d best example..

  • Ajai on September 26, 2013, 13:50 GMT

    There have been many "distorted" teams in the past. In the late 1970s UP did well in the Ranji Trophy-although most of the players lived in or near Delhi and were employed by Mohan Meakins in Ghaziabad. There were very few actual residents of UP in the team, though today they have enough "genuine" players who have even played for India.

  • Ajai on September 26, 2013, 13:46 GMT

    Over the years there have been attempts to rationalize the Ranji Trophy by combining the 3 teams of Gujarat and Maharashtra, 2 from AP and so on. Now no one talks about it-perhaps everyone is happy with things as they are. In the last 20-odd years only Himachal, Goa and Tripura have been added while Jharkand replaced Bihar. None of the new additions have done much of note although there may be a few stray entries into the Elite group.

  • Dummy4 on September 26, 2013, 8:18 GMT

    I think Tamil Nadu can very proud of what they have supplied to the national team over the years. India's 4 greatest triumphs in cricket. World Cup 1983, Calcutta 2001 v Australia, World Cup 2011, 4-0 v Australia 2013. In the 1983 World Cup final, Kris Srikanth was top scorer by far (on both sides). Calcutta was thanks to Laxman 281. 4-0 series, Vijay was leading run scorer and Ashwin was leading wicket taker. So in 3 of the 4 of India's greatest exploits, it is the Tamil community who did the hard work! Laxman is grand nephew of Radhakrishnan.

  • Dummy4 on September 26, 2013, 7:43 GMT

    Coming out to Bangalore to look at setting up Speed Bowling Academy. Would be great to develop potential into talent in Karnataka and beyond

  • achint on September 26, 2013, 7:06 GMT

    The teams from tamil nadu and kerala are just like rohit sharma. Extreme talent, Zero performance.

  • abhijeet on September 26, 2013, 5:48 GMT

    I am sorry to be so blunt but his is a riduculous article. Why don't TN/Kar win consistently if they have so many talented players. And if they don't win despite having a lot of talent, why shouldn't their respective boards and selectors fix their pyramids rather than having an easy way out of asking for two teams. Why not give Tripura two teams as well in that case.

    As far as Gujrat etc getting 2-3 teams, that shouldn't be allowed either if their performance is not good. One good team is better than two mediocre teams both for the state and the country's cricket. Mumbai is an exception though. It has won so many Ranji Trophies that it makes sense to leave it as it is. Feel free to merge Maharashtra and Vidarbha though. Basically we Indians have to learn to think like Indians rather than Maharashtrians and Tamilians etc...

    PS: I am not from Mumbai, Blore or Chennai but have lived in and loved all three cities.

  • Dummy4 on September 26, 2013, 5:12 GMT

    Sorry, but the writer has not done enough research.In the East, several states including Manipur are hardly new but the last team to have got Ranji status was Tripura.The Jharkhand team has replaced Bihar which was playing the Ranji trophy in the thirties itself.In the North new state teams perhaps refer to the old states of Haryana and Himachal, formed nearly 50 years ago.Uttarakhand is a new state but does not have a Ranji team. Which brings us to India's third most populous state: Bihar who don't have a ranji Team.And to argue that Bangalore and Chennai should have two teamswould have been justified if they performed so well.By the yardstick suggested by the writer Mumbai should have at least half dozen teams in the ranji trophy.

  • ATUL on September 26, 2013, 5:00 GMT

    Shouldnt a 'surfeit' of talent make the players consistent, given that they need to play for their place everytime? Something we saw in the Aussie team of the noughties?

  • srikanthan on September 26, 2013, 4:59 GMT

    Point about Chennai being more organised than Blr may be right. I have been inBangalore for 16 years, but hardly get to see 1 st Division cricket. Very poor visibility to outsiders. I used to be in Chennai during my schooling and college days in the 70 s and 80 s and distinctly recall the matches played on Sundays in RKM Grounds and so on. Inspite of that Karnataka seems to be producing good players. Not clear as to the reason. May be the grounds are confined to certain areas in bangalore but a bit strange.

    I remember even Hyderabad,I had watched matches in Secunderabad parade grounds I think .