Teams demand less gruelling Ranji schedule
The captains and coaches of all the domestic teams in India were unanimous in demanding more time between Ranji Trophy matches during the annual captains and coaches' conclave that was held on Tuesday in Mumbai. This was one of the many suggestions put forth at the conclave that was also attended by technical committee chairman Anil Kumble, BCCI president N Srinivasan, secretary Sanjay Jagdale and Ratnakar Shetty, general manager, cricket development.
The 79th edition of the Ranji Trophy was played by 27 teams that were divided into three groups of nine teams each. The number of matches played was also more than previous seasons. In about two months, every team played eight games and, except for a week-long break at some stage, teams often played four-day games with a break of only three days in between. The scheduling not only affected the fitness of players but also resulted in some teams opting for a first-innings lead instead of trying to gain an outright victory.
For the BCCI, scheduling remains a tricky aspect, given that a plethora of domestic tournaments are played in a limited time frame. However, Kumble assured teams that their concerns would be addressed.
One of the options the technical committee and the fixtures committee may explore is to introduce a four-day gap between matches at least in the latter half of the league stage. "We could have some matches played after a gap of three days, while others could have a four-day break in between. We will have to see how it works," Kumble told reporters after the two-hour meeting.
Former India left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi, who has been coaching the Hyderabad team for the last two seasons, endorsed Kumble's suggestion.
"Ideally, every team would want at least a break of four days before every game but since it's practically difficult to implement, it would help a lot if the teams got longer breaks in the latter half of the season," Joshi said. "The fatigue starts creeping in as the tournament progresses. That is where the additional break can be helpful."
While Bengal coach WV Raman suggested that both captains and managers should be asked to submit their assessment of the wicket after every match, a section of coaches felt the teams needed extra motivation to go for an outright victory rather than settling for drab draws after attaining the first innings lead. "We have seen several instances of teams opting against enforcing a follow-on, despite gaining a big first-innings lead, and opting to bat on instead. If an additional point is rewarded for enforcing the follow-on, it could make such games more interesting," Joshi said.
Another suggestion, which was backed by almost everyone present at the meeting, was to stage the Ranji Trophy knock-out games at neutral venues.
"There was a suggestion and the technical committee will discuss the issue during its meeting," Kumble said.
Mumbai coach Sulakshan Kulkarni suggested that the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the national limited-overs championship, also be staged in a format similar to the Ranji Trophy. While the Ranji Trophy is played in a three-tier league stage followed by knock-outs, the Vijay Hazare Trophy starts with a zonal league that covers five regions. The two top teams from each zone then progress to the national knock-outs.
"It pits the same teams against each other in the preliminary stage, like the old Ranji Trophy format," Kulkarni said.
The suggestion, however, is unlikely to be implemented. "It will be a logistical nightmare," Kumble said.
Some of the teams raised concerns over umpiring standards. The major concerns centred around the decision-making abilities of umpires and uniformity in judging the quality of light during matches. "Everyone went by their own experiences and made their suggestions. The teams who were affected expressed their concerns. But the overall standards of umpiring have improved," Kumble said.
The suggestions will now be discussed in detail by the technical committee which could meet in the third week of March, according to Kumble.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo