Domestic calendar needs revamp - Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra, the former India opener, has called for changes to the domestic game, including a remodelling of the Ranji Trophy points system and a more reasonable and thought-through calendar for first-class cricket. Chopra was releasing his second book on Indian first-class cricket in New Delhi and his statements on the game - he also said the Duleep Trophy had made itself redundant by turning into a knock-out format - came in the presence of BCCI official and IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla.
Chopra, who made his first class debut in 1997-98 and currently plays for Rajasthan after a decade with Delhi, was speaking at the release of Out of the Blue: Rajasthan's Road to the Ranji Trophy. The event was attended by a large number of first-class cricketers from four teams - Rajasthan, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Railways - all gathered in Delhi two days before the start of the third round of Ranji Trophy matches.
In a discussion with Amrit Mathur, CEO of the Delhi Daredevils franchise, Chopra talked about the crowded domestic calendar that left teams to deal with preparing for a four-day event through the staging of a Twenty20 tournament. "All first-class players would be happy to play eight months a year but it needs to be more sensibly organised. You have two four-day events, two T20 events and two one-day tournaments. This year we played the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament before the Ranji Trophy kicked in. We prepared for the four-day game by playing with the white ball."
The Duleep Trophy's knock-out format, he said, had robbed the tournament of its stature. "I used to love the Duleep Trophy, performing in it meant performing against the best in the country. But with a knock-out format it is meaningless because your chance has gone if your team loses." The logic behind using the Kookaburra ball in the Duleep Trophy, he said, was also undermined by the format. "If you play just one match with the Kookaburra, you don't get enough muscle memory on how to play with it. Once a year with the Kookaburra is not enough."
The Ranji Trophy points format awarding three points for a first innings lead and five for an outright win served no purpose, as the difference between a victory and a draw was a mere two points. "We need to reward and encourage teams to win matches, bigger incentives say 10 points for winning a game, and bowling and batting points so that the losing team goes away with something. We need to find a better solution."
The IPL, Chopra felt, was a proven platform for many youngsters but it was unreasonable to expect success in the T20 format to be a launch pad for an India place - and the exceptions who had made the breakthrough had influenced the ambitions of their peers. "There are many players, like Deepak Chahar and Ashok Menaria, who have the ambition for not just the Duleep Trophy but a chance in the India team... The fire is still there for them, but not for everyone. Some players are short-sighted and think that you can can actually bypass the rigours of first class cricket, through the IPL become the next Rahul Sharma... Even if a player makes a name for himself in the IPL, catches the eye, I would still advise him to get a season of first-class cricket under his belt."
Chopra is one of the most prolific contemporary chroniclers of the first-class game, writing columns in newspapers, speaking on television and, with Out of the Blue, producing his second book on the Ranji Trophy. His first, Beyond the Blues: A First-Class Season Like No Other, was about Delhi's victory in the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season.
At Tuesday's book launch event, Rajasthan's players were welcomed into the hall and seated at the front, where they watched a short video produced by Rajasthan's data analyst Manish Goyal with footage from their Ranji-winning season, set to Right Said Fred's "Stand Up (For the Champions)". For everyone involved in it, the story of Rajasthan's achievement will always remain, on film and on paper, recorded by one of their own. Not even Mumbai's 39-time Ranji winners have that.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo