BCCI technical committee recommends neutral venues for Ranji Trophy
The BCCI's technical committee has recommended that all Ranji Trophy matches in 2016-17 be played at neutral venues to make domestic cricket more competitive. The committee's recommendations, according to the BCCI, seek to "rule out the issues related to preparing specific wickets for home teams, as well as to expose players to play in different conditions." These recommendations will have to be ratified by the board's working committee. A similar recommendation, to play all Ranji matches at neutral venues, was made before the 2012-13 season but was later turned down.
The pitches used in the Ranji Trophy last season came under scrutiny after nine matches finished inside two days. Former India captain Rahul Dravid was critical of the "poor" pitches that stunted the development of young cricketers. He had also said state associations had to be forced to prepare good surfaces.
"A lot of people criticise and say Ranji Trophy [knockout] matches should be held in home venues of teams," he said. "But if teams resort to doing these kind of things, then I think it is better the knockout matches are staged in neutral venues."
While Karnataka coach J Arun Kumar welcomed the panel's recommendation, his Assam counterpart Sanath Kumar disagreed with the idea.
"Apart from not having the home-crowd advantage and the home-pitch advantage, I don't see anything wrong in that," Arun Kumar told ESPNcricinfo. "There have been a lot of problems in the past with home-team advantage [resulting in] very bad wickets. Not having crowd support is the only setback but otherwise I think it's a very fair move."
Sanath Kumar said the existing system, where a team played four games at home and four away, was fair. "I don't think anybody will now come and watch. [Playing games at home meant] at least a few fans will come and support the team," he said. "It will be like a knockout match where hardly anybody is watching the game. Instead of this recommendation, they could have had a [neutral] curator to prepare the pitches. That would have been an easier solution."
The technical committee has also recommended that the Duleep Trophy be played entirely as a day-night tournament, with four teams, picked by the selectors, playing in a round-robin format. In January, the BCCI tours and fixtures committee had asked the technical committee to explore the possibility of trialing the pink ball in the tournament. This move is significant considering the board's keenness to host a day-night Test during India's long home season where they will play series against New Zealand, England and Australia.
Sanath Kumar said there had been discussions about changes in the zonal format of the Duleep Trophy since last season. "[In the coaches and captains enclave last year] we told the BCCI that the zonal system didn't make much sense," he said. "In the past we used to play Ranji Trophy at the zonal level and then we go to the knockouts. That time Duleep Trophy had a lot of relevance whereas now Ranji Trophy itself has become an all-India tournament and so Duleep doesn't have a lot of recognition. Even the players don't take it seriously.
"We suggested that if the selectors select four teams like they do for the Challenger Trophy, it would be a better way of going about things."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun