Points system, pitches feature in Chopra's paper
The BCCI's technical committee is set to meet on Friday to discuss a number of issues surrounding the domestic game in India, including the merit of playing the Ranji Trophy quarter- and semi-finals over four days, and hosting all Ranji games at neutral venues.
In what could been seen as another positive step, the board asked the veteran domestic cricketer and former India opener Aakash Chopra to send in a paper with his suggestions and recommendations to improve domestic cricket. The paper will be presented at Friday's meeting in Mumbai, chaired by former India captain Sourav Ganguly.
The idea to pick Chopra's mind came from Ratnakar Shetty, the BCCI chief administrative officer. An avid reader, Shetty was impressed by Chopra's writings over the years in various media outlets, including ESPNcricinfo. But last November, when Rajasthan (the team Chopra represents as a professional) came to play in Mumbai during the Ranji Trophy league phase, Shetty suggested to him that a better forum would be to write directly to the board's technical committee. "Because the decisions are taken by them," Shetty explained, while speaking to ESPNcricinfo. "I told him since he was still playing his points would prove useful." Chopra finally sent in his paper earlier this week.
Chopra's paper is exhaustive with elaborate recommendations. Shetty said the points have been passed to the technical committee. "My paper is all about whatever is plaguing domestic cricket and it is quite comprehensive," Chopra told ESPNcricinfo.
The key issues Chopra has raised are the points system currently points in place, the quality of pitches, and the role and relevance of tournaments like the Duleep Trophy. Chopra, who has always been blunt in his opinion pieces on domestic cricket, said that his paper stressed upon the solutions, too, without just harping about what ails the game.
"If we can correct these things, the rest would take care of itself," Chopra said. "If you talk about pitches, everyone knows that we must produce lively and sporting tracks."
Consequently, in a radical move, the board's working committee recommended that the league matches during the Ranji Trophy be played at neutral venues, drawing a mixed response from the players. Shetty said the technical committee would deliberate on the matter tomorrow.
Chopra said that this scenario had been created only because the state associations refused to pay heed to the board's grounds and pitches committee's brief. "Unfortunately it is always about what suits their (individual states') players and what their position is during the league phase."
A prime example of a bad pitch was January's Ranji final played in Chennai between Tamil Nadu and defending champions Rajasthan. Though Rajasthan won the title, Chopra agreed that the dead and slow pitch was a bad exhibition of the current state of affairs with regards to playing surfaces. "We had the head of the pitch committee and the south zone member on the pitch committee [present], and we were playing at a Test centre. All of them could do absolutely nothing."
As a solution, Chopra has a better approach than playing at neutral venues: the grounds and pitches committee must be made accountable for each and every first-class ground in the country. "If you cannot monitor it successfully, the state association should be slapped with financial penalties for making highways."
Chopra felt the current points system - that gives teams three points for securing the first-innings lead in drawn games - made for boring cricket and rewarded mediocrity. "We have to do away with the first-innings lead points. If it is retained the points accrued should be minuscule. It should not have a huge impact towards the end of the season."
As a counter measure, Chopra felt it would be good to introduce points for batting and bowling as is the case in England. "Then there should be a huge bonus for an outright victory, both in terms of points as well as money."
The monetary reward, Chopra stressed, would come into play during the knockouts where teams can't have the points system and they would rely on the first innings lead. "I am 100% certain that teams would go that extra yard because every cricketer likes to have his kitty full."
Chopra was also concerned about the domestic calendar which kicks off in October and is choc-a-bloc with players participating in various tournaments till March before the IPL begins in early April. "The calendar is crowded and something needs to be done about it," he said.
Several cricket watchers including Harsha Bhogle have suggested that the Ranji Trophy should abolish the Elite and Plate group format, and the number of teams should be brought down from the existing 27 to 12. "There is a radical thought that fewer teams would mean better competition," Chopra said. "That is true. But is it is possible within our system?" Chopra has said that since that is not "plausible" he has some suggestions where the BCCI could make the most of the 27 teams and how the competition would be a level-playing field.
Chopra also endorsed the idea that knockout games should be played over five days. "My issue is that, in knockouts, a lead of one run cannot be a substantial differentiator between the quality of two sides," he explained.
According to Chopra, in a four-day game there is no time to bounce back if the opponent takes a lead, no matter how marginal. "If you eliminate that by having a five-day game there is more time if you have the intent. And in knockouts teams definitely would like to make a match out of it but there needs to be a realistic chance in terms of time."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo