Aakash Chopra
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Former India opener; author of Beyond the Blues, an account of the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season

Overhaul, no. Futile tweaks, yes

The proposed changes to Indian domestic cricket don't address the real problems: substandard pitches, redundant tournaments, and rewards for mediocrity

Aakash Chopra

February 25, 2012

Comments: 36 | Text size: A | A

The Mumbai dressing-room was a sombre place during the final day's play, Mumbai v Tamil Nadu, 2nd semi-final, Ranji Trophy 2011-12, Mumbai, 4th day, January 13, 2012
How and why will Indian domestic batsmen work on playing the moving ball when no such movement exists on pitches in India? © Fotocorp

Now that bowlers in Indian domestic cricket will be allowed to bowl a couple of bouncers per over in a 50-over game, knockout matches will last five days, the Duleep Trophy will be played before the Ranji season and the Irani Cup after, will India be the world's No. 1 side again very soon?

Blame me for being a doubting Thomas, but the hullabaloo over the proposed overhaul of the domestic structure did, at least for a while, encourage the optimist in me. I assumed the intent was noble; the execution, though, has left much to be desired.

The time was right for radical change too. Calls to fix the mess have been gaining ground. Unlike in previous times, like when the BCCI rightly suggested the scrapping of the redundant Deodhar Trophy and the media and certain factions went up in arms.

Spurred by India's abysmal showings internationally, Sourav Ganguly and the others on the BCCI's technical committee have sought to refurbish first-class cricket, and they need to be lauded for spotting the problems, but the need of the hour was tough, pathbreaking revisions of India's cricket constitution. What we have got is a shot in the dark - a supposedly sincere-looking but ultimately futile attempt at modernisation.

Allow me to elucidate.

The new points system
Earlier, if both teams in a Ranji match failed to complete their first innings in four days, neither got any points. The new rule gives them a point each now. Also, knockout matches can now be extended by a day, if both first innings aren't completed in four days. Finally, the host team will be docked two points if they dish out an underprepared surface for a game.

Ask a veteran of the domestic circuit and he'll tell you that the chances of both first innings not concluding in four whole days are tiny. Last season this happened in only one league match, out of 100-odd matches played. How does one justify a rule that affects one game in a hundred?

It would seem that the real bane of domestic cricket, granting three points for a first-innings lead, has been completely and grossly missed. The repercussions of this mindless rule have been all too plain to see. Over the years teams have rarely gone the extra yard for an outright win, since the reward of a mere two extra points doesn't justify the effort. If they can do with three points, why slog for five? This safety-first approach is to blame for the majority of drawn games in the first few rounds. Teams take a risk only when relegation or promotion are on the line. If a rule encourages and rewards mediocrity, shouldn't it be dumped?

My recommendations to the committee included introducing batting and bowling points that would be up for grabs all through a match, a substantial bonus (ten points) for an outright win, and a possible cap in terms of number of overs, after which only the bowling team can earn points.

I suggested a maximum of five points each for every 75 runs scored and two wickets taken. With the stipulation that the batting points could only be gained till the 120th over of an innings. That way, teams would be encouraged to bat at a fair clip and also to declare after 120 overs, for after that the bowling team could keep getting points for taking wickets. The same points system would continue in the second innings, with a bonus of ten points for winning the game.

Under the prevailing points system, teams shy away from setting up matches, for losing a game means no points. If you are looking to improve the quality of cricket at the domestic level, you must overhaul the points system. You can't produce new-age cricketers with archaic rules.

Lastly, docking a team a couple of points to penalise their association for dishing out an underprepared surface is a noble idea, but what about those who dish out highways for wickets? Shouldn't there be a way to penalise them too?

Overruling the working committee's suggestion of playing all matches at neutral venues, the technical committee has recommended that all matches be played home and away, as at present.

How will rescheduling tournaments help when it wasn't their place in the calendar that was a problem to begin with? The real issue here is the calendar, crowded with senseless tournaments

One can understand the rationale behind sticking to home and away matches. Playing at neutral venues will not encourage fans to come and support their teams, leading to empty stadiums. Well considered, but again the committee has not recommended anything to ensure that all matches are played on sporting surfaces. When the working committee proposed neutral venues, it did so because of the vested interests of host associations in the preparation of pitches. The decision to dock the points of host teams that dish out underprepared pitches is commendable, but it only goes halfway.

Six out of seven matches in the first round of the Ranji Trophy Elite League this season ended in draws. Plenty of runs were scored in the first round, which included Ravindra Jadeja's triple-century and a few double-hundreds. On the other hand, only two bowlers managed five-wicket hauls. The pitches on which the Ranji Trophy is played are generally good only for batting. Bowlers are mere participants, not competitors, for the odds are stacked heavily against them.

The worst thing about these batting-friendly conditions is that even run-of-the-mill performances are encouraged. Players who have piled up thousands of runs on these batting beauties are found to be woefully out of their depth in challenging conditions internationally. I wouldn't blame these batsmen for not working on their technique - a player is but a product of the environment he grows up in. If a cricketer has played most of his cricket on surfaces where the ball rarely bounces above knee height, it's unrealistic to expect him to be comfortable playing in Perth or Durban. If India wants to prepare players for bouncy and seaming wickets, it's important to expose them to these conditions regularly. Why would a player work on playing the ball late, in the second line, and so on, when all he needs to do to score runs in domestic circuit is to plant his front foot and play through the line?

There's an urgent need for a powerful central pitch committee, which should be responsible for the quality of pitches across the country. Issuing directives to the state associations and penalising them for dishing out poor surfaces hasn't worked so far. It's important for the board to assume control and get directly involved in the preparation of those vital 22 yards. Playing all matches at neutral venues would have had its pitfalls, but it would at least to a certain extent have addressed this issue.

The domestic calendar
The Duleep Trophy, instead of being played at the end of the season, will now be played at the start. The Irani trophy will be played at the end of the season, while the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy will be played at one stretch.

How will rescheduling tournaments help when it wasn't their place in the calendar that was the problem to begin with? The real issue here is the calendar, crowded with senseless tournaments. Changing the dates of a tournament isn't going to make any difference to the standard of competition or its relevance. If we can't do away with redundant tournaments, we must invest thought in making them worthwhile.

The Duleep Trophy can be a fantastic tournament if it is played on a league basis and the top Indian players are available to participate. Same with the Deodhar Trophy; a knockout tournament that lasts four days isn't going to help anyone's cause.

The technical committee had a brilliant opportunity to shelve the Duleep, Deodhar and Syed Mushtaq Ali trophies, thus giving more space and importance to the Ranji Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Moreover, the Elite and Plate divisions have proved to be successful systems of dividing teams. Why then opt for an archaic zone-wise split for the 50-over format?

All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward. The technical committee may have brought in a few changes, but the question is: do they mean anything? Domestic cricket is the engine that runs the vehicle of Indian cricket. When the engine needs overhauling, how does merely a change of upholstery matter?

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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Posted by   on (February 27, 2012, 17:24 GMT)

Aakash along with Sanjay are have a deep understanding and mean well but BCCI will never go the whole way. It is a monolithic organization and change does not sit with the old men who rule it

Posted by theswami on (February 27, 2012, 16:51 GMT)

I think Ranji should be played between less teams. It makes no sense for Gujarat to have 3 teams, though 2 teams for Andhra & Maharashtra will be understandable.

I think the new teams need to be South: TN, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra West: Goa + Maharashtra, Mumbai, Gujarat, Rajasthan Central : Madhya Bharat ( Vidharbha + MP + Chhattisgarh), UP, Railways, Services North : North India ( J&K + HP + UK), North -2 ( Haryana + Chandigarh + Punjab), Delhi, Bihar + Jharkhand East: Orissa, Bengal + Sikkim, Assam + Meghalaya, Tripura+ Mizoram, Manipur + Nagaland + Arunachal.

Posted by Naresh28 on (February 26, 2012, 13:46 GMT)

SUGGESTION: WHY NOT REWARD 5 POINTS FOR A BOWLER FRIENDLY PITCH(above knee height bounce), 4 POINTS TO TEAMS BOWLING OPPOSITION OUT IN FIRST INNINGS, AND 3 POINTS FOR GOOD BATTING BY A TEAM IN FIRST INNINGS, MAYBE 2 FOR A WIN. This I hope will push for better bowlers and pitches. Less emphasise on batting. Also a result is ensured.

Posted by   on (February 26, 2012, 12:25 GMT)

Mr Akash, the "Allrounder" Mr RA Jadeja has scored 165 runs in the last 11 innings since the Triple Hundred including 101 runs in 8 Innings in Australia. So much for the value of the Triple Ton.

Posted by chennu7 on (February 26, 2012, 2:21 GMT)

Also does Cricket administrators respect domestic cricket? How is it justified to conduct 2 matches on successive days in the on going Vijay Hazare Trophy? I do agree it is played in a single city (every zone) but players do need some rest. If I am not wrong we have only one ODI tournament at zonal level where teams get to play 4 to 5 matches on the whole to prove their worth. I am not sure on which basis our ODI national team is selected, based on a 10 day long Vijay Hazare Trophy!! Do not say, based on meaningless Challenger Trophy played across 4 days. We do need to revamp most of the tournaments conducted in India both in ODI format and 4 day format. Also Akash pointed out we do need to learn something from England county's points system and revamp the total point system of Ranji trophy.

Posted by vik56in on (February 25, 2012, 23:48 GMT)

Will Indian cricket ever see good sporting wickets?Vested interests will never make it happen. India's recent poor performance in England and Australia notwithstanding,the next 18 months will have Indian cricketers prospering on the front foot at home.The next away series will again be a whitewash.There will be again calls for sporting wickets at home.Cheers,this is the cycle of Indian cricket!

Posted by T-800 on (February 25, 2012, 20:30 GMT)

This is an exceptionally well written article by Mr. Akash Chopra. However, the key to why his common sense ideas will not be implemented lies in the article itself. And that key is these umpteen state associations with their vested interests. So, while hoping that some day BCCI listens to actual cricketers and implements such much needed reforms, I have a much simpler solution. Ensure that the IPL is played alternately in a foreign location and India. If the IPL was successfully conducted in South Africa once, it can be done so again and possibly at other test playing countries. This will ensure that up coming players will try and develop the skills required to play on pitches conducive to good fast bowling

Posted by Rahulbose on (February 25, 2012, 19:50 GMT)

Well everyone knows IPL is the real domestic cricket in India now, Ranji is just for the rejects. And I still can't get my head around how Ravindra Jadeja scored a triple hundred at any level.

Posted by maddinson on (February 25, 2012, 17:17 GMT)

27 teams are too much, unless they brought it down to 12-15 I can't see India's first class cricket improving. The current system will keep producing Jadeja and Vinay Kumar kind of products in international cricket.

Posted by rajbal on (February 25, 2012, 16:07 GMT)

The calls urging players to play more domestic cricket doesn't make any sense as the standards are mediocre. Top performers in Tests for India in the last two decades such as Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly, Shewag, Lakshman, Kumble, Srinath, Harbhajan , Zaheer all belonged to a different league altogether. Heavy scorers in Ranji like Wasim Jaffer, Murali Vijay, Vikram Rathore, Pankaj Dharmani, S. Ramesh, Vijay Bharadwaj, Dewang Gandhi, Akash Chopra, S.S Das, Sanjay Bangar, Dinesh Mongia, Sikhar Dhawan , Venugopal Rao couldn't manage a decent career in International Cricket. Same with the bowlers such as Ganesh, Mohanty, J.P Yadav, Jogindersharma, Mambrey, Kuruvilla, Powar, Prasad , Joshi etc. Only very few like Majumdar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Kanwaljith Singh, Pankaj Singh or Ananathapadmanabhan of Kerala can complain that they were not provided any opportunity in international cricket.

Posted by kunderanengineer on (February 25, 2012, 15:40 GMT)

I agree whole-heartedly with Mr. Chopra when he says "you can't produce new-age cricketers with archaic rules". The article also implicitly states that you can't produce new age cricketers who are only used to playing on one type of surface. This is why Indian players such as Sehwag have become laughing stocks around the world - lions at home but totally clueless on foreign pitches. It's got to a point now where we might need to weight players' centuries based on where they were scored. "Ravindra Jadeja's triple century" says it all.This is a case of serious run inflation. Why can't we offer pitches in India like they do in Australia and South Africa where there's a little bit for bowler and for batsman? This would not only help our batsmen but also our pace bowlers. Something definitely needs to be done in this area if we don't want a repeat of the disastrous England tour and the current one in Australia.

Posted by yoogi on (February 25, 2012, 15:22 GMT)

Point system - We all agree Sir. Certainly the Point System should have adopted your idea, not necessarily exactly. But at least in some way. For example 75 in low scoring match and high scoring match need not be the same. Win should worth only 6 wickets. But that was good to begin with. Even in flat wickets and dying conditions, even in a loosing match, bowlers will always look for something to take home.That will improve the performance of all, by lot of miles. I'm not fond of Ranji, because you are never going to get anything good by having 27 teams. The teams should be limited to 6-12. Zonal cricket should be played for half-the time, inter-zone for another half the time. Give away Zones to Big companies like ONGC and SBI, and let states influence only intra zone competitions.

Posted by cricketqatar on (February 25, 2012, 14:59 GMT)

Mr Akash you 100% correct say about nature of Indian Pitches...!!! here playing u -14, u-16 to till Renji matches. but almost 99 % batsman does not how to play pace and bouncy wickets (example of last Duleep trophy final)

Posted by   on (February 25, 2012, 14:11 GMT)

Friends, there is only one way that the Indian cricket establishment will mend its ways - if we the fans boycott the game..so dont' watch the ongoing one dayers, IPL, or any cricket for the rest of the year. As we the fans are addicted to the game, BCCI knows that we will consume whatever sub-standard product they supply. Sometimes, even thoughtful ex-players like Shastri, Gavaskar get compromised when they become part of this same diseased system...as Aakash has said - we need deep-rooted changes, both for the short-term and long-term, to produce a quality Indian team which can win in different formats and all conditions.

Posted by venkatesh018 on (February 25, 2012, 13:45 GMT)

As usual Fantastic article...KEEP BANGING THE DOOR AKASH... we cricket lovers are confident the tide will turn one day...

Posted by rajbal on (February 25, 2012, 13:03 GMT)

The calls urging players to play more domestic cricket doesn't make any sense as the standards are mediocre. Top performers in Tests for India in the last two decades such as Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly, Shewag, Lakshman, Kumble, Srinath, Harbhajan , Zaheer all belonged to a different league altogether. Heavy scorers in Ranji like Wasim Jaffer, Murali Vijay, Vikram Rathore, Pankaj Dharmani, S. Ramesh, Vijay Bharadwaj, Dewang Gandhi, Akash Chopra, S.S Das, Sanjay Bangar, Dinesh Mongia, Sikhar Dhawan , Venugopal Rao couldn't manage a decent career in International Cricket. Same with the bowlers such as Ganesh, Mohanty, J.P Yadav, Jogindersharma, Mambrey, Kuruvilla, Powar, Prasad , Joshi etc. Only very few like Majumdar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Kanwaljith Singh, Pankaj Singh or Ananathapadmanabhan of Kerala can complain that they were not provided any opportunity in international cricket.

Posted by   on (February 25, 2012, 12:23 GMT)

Spot on. BTW - rewarding mediocrity is what the IPL is all about.

Posted by anshu.s on (February 25, 2012, 12:11 GMT)

Well Aakash makes very fair and reasonable points and all of them should have been accepted,but one issue that has not been addressed is the selection of some of the Ranji teams,those who follow domestic cricket would notice a selection pattern that certain players who are close to state association figures keep getting selected despite non-performance in name of experience.I would like to use the example of Himachal Pradesh cricket association whose u-19 n u-22 teams have done really well in last 2 years but none of them figure in the senior side,Himachal side has guest players such as S Sriram n A Ratra who are past by there sell-by date but are regulars,this story is repeated in many other states. somebody has to step in and do something about it.Bcci has a duty to ensure that right players get to play at the right time.

Posted by rohan024 on (February 25, 2012, 11:34 GMT)

fantastic article..more was expected out of Ganguly...Only 2 things need to be changed - pitches & the rule of getting 3 points based upon first innings lead...the idea of forced declaration after 120 overs in the first innings is fantastic as that would mean in 2.5 days, 2nd innings will start and hence the chances of a match ending in a result..

Posted by arya_underfoot on (February 25, 2012, 11:07 GMT)

i would go one step further and say that unless the utterly brainless system of awarding points for a first innings lead is overhauled, indian domestic cricket will only go backward. entire generations of first class cricketers are being rendered ineffective (if and when they make it to the international stage) because of it. wasim jaffer is a case in point: he's one of the most successful ranji batsmen in the history of indian cricket. he's won lot of ranji trophies and amassed an enormous number of runs. sadly, most of those runs were obtained setting up first innings leads. this sort of apprenticeship meant that he was woefully unprepared for international cricket when his inevitable selection came.

Posted by   on (February 25, 2012, 10:30 GMT)

Will all of this help?Will it make a difference?Will INDIA ever compensate for how far they have been pushed back?Indian fans,get ready for a long haul before india rise again...................best of luck from Sri Lanka.

Posted by Ajayvs on (February 25, 2012, 9:01 GMT)

Honarary posts have been the bane of indian society including cricket. We dont need a Sourav Ganguly,Ravi Shastri or a Sunil Gavaskar in the technical commitie if they cannot devote enough time on the task because of other commercial engagements. Appoint people who are paid well for the job, who can do proper brainstorming and come up with a good blue print at the end of the day. Some of the fans were hoping that after the Australia and England fiasco some positive changes would come in but looks like there is no light at the end of tunnel. Also CricInfo please publish this article as headline news, please just dont limit it to the blogs section. Maybe if too many people come down heavily, it might tickle a deaf ear somewhere.

Posted by LillianThomson on (February 25, 2012, 9:01 GMT)

When Irfan Pathan emerged and India drew away to a weakened Australia eight years ago I wondered whether India would become the dominant team in world cricket. Less than a decade later they are in a Second Division of Test teams along with Sri Lanka, West Indies and New Zealand, looking up enviously at a First Division of England, Pakistan, South Africa and Australia, and can only dream of putting together a string of results like Pakistan's current W9 D6 L1 in their last 16 Tests away from home. It is not just BCCI incompetence, it is this cult of The Batsman, which sees bowlers devalued and left to slog away on unsporting flat tracks. Outside India there is virtually no-one left who considers India's brief spell at number 1 to be anything other than a temporary statistical anomaly while the true top teams were in transition. The pitches which should have points docked are the ones on which any team scores 400 at any time. That would help the bowlers and improve the batsmen.

Posted by Ajayvs on (February 25, 2012, 8:50 GMT)

The decision to award 1 point each when both teams dont complete single innings completely beats me. On the contrary it is in this situation that the host team had to be docked 2 points for preparing a national highway for a pitch. Initially i thought this rule was brought in to mitigate rain affected matches but after detail reading i found that this provision was already there for rain affected matches and this new rule was for matches where there was no weather intervention.

Posted by Ajayvs on (February 25, 2012, 7:57 GMT)

Akash, i dont understand how docking of 2 points for host team for preparing underprepared picthes work? Is a pitch deemed underprepared if the match is abandoned for dangerous pitch like it happened in Kotla or Is it when a match ends within 2 days? Who decides what is an under prepared pitch and how will they maintain consistency in the decisions? Is it ok prepare underprepared pitches for knock out games,is it :-)?

Posted by   on (February 25, 2012, 7:42 GMT)

Intriguing read this one. Changes suggested By Aakash for the domestic structure spot on. The details of this technical committee meeting did not come out in the open, so nobody knows what went on. But more was expected from a committee chaired by an articulate cricketer like Sourav Ganguly. Mere changing the dates of irrelevant tournaments and awarding few points is not going to bring wholesale changes to the cricket structure. The need of the hour is sporting pitches and nothing has been done to address that. Well it seems nobody has the guts in this Srinivasan headed BCCI to take tough decisions. Just happy being mere mortals. India cricket is heading southwards and the sad part is that there is no one in the governing body, even trying to halt this slide !

Posted by   on (February 25, 2012, 7:21 GMT)

I absolutely agree with you, Aakash. Why on earth would the batsmen learn a second technique (playing besides the line, the horizontal shots, leaving the ball on the bounce), when all they need to do is to score heavily to be in the selectors short list? They will learn to plonk their foot & play through the line.

And why will the bowlers run in & bowl fast when they know they won't get anything out of the pitch? The bowlers will look at showing the selectors that they can bowl 25-30 overs an innings with not too many runs against their name. It sets a defensive mindset

Posted by   on (February 25, 2012, 6:18 GMT)

Excellent observations, Mr.Chopra, however, it falls into deaf ears. What is the point? I read in newspapers that BCCI had requested your recommendations to revamp the domestic cricket and then thrown into waste basket after making some media hype like neutral pitches. Pitches plays an important role in making a batsman and a bowler. Vinaykumar, the leading domestic wicket taker in past seasons, were all over the ground when he bowls in 'Perth, the bowlers paradise'. Because, he doesn't know how to bowl in real good lively pitches as he used to bowl in flat patta tracks where a mediocre batsman like Ravindra Jadeja can score triple hundred. Great BCCI, Working committee, technical committee, BCCI executive committee, general body - what type of decisions are going to take place after overcoming all these hurdles.

Posted by   on (February 25, 2012, 6:12 GMT)

Very good article Aakash.There is no one who understands the domestic cricket scene in India as much as you do.Even players like Ganguly played domestic cricket in India very less due to their international engagements and is out of sync with Indian domestic cricket's myriad of problems..Every point in this article is justified and even an average cricket follower can understand the reasoning behind it .But i dont know why these high profile cricketers and administrators failed to understand the rationale behind this.You have won three Ranji trophies i guess and has helped an usually elite team like delhi to win it and more challengingly helped abottom of the pile team like Rajasthan to win two Ranji Trophies.If these BCCI guys dont heed to advice of people like you,i can only see continued worst performance of India abroad .

Posted by   on (February 25, 2012, 5:30 GMT)

Excellent observation by akash.When i read the changes last week i thought the same thing.They have just fooled people in believing that changes have happened but nothing has changed.Its like in a proffesion of accounting just a Window dressing of balance sheet. God help Indian Cricket!

Posted by ccrriicc on (February 25, 2012, 5:30 GMT)

BCCI technical committee is an oxymoron - Gangulys want to captain their teams at the cost of a youngster - what will such a thoughtlessness mind bring forth - your expectations are unrealistic - this is BCCI - the nothing is wrong Srinivasan outfit!

Posted by Ajayvs on (February 25, 2012, 5:29 GMT)

Excellent observations Akash. Brilliant Article. Is this all the sweeping changes coming our way which all the fans were waiting after the disastorous tours of England and Australia. Frankly it is a disgrace, probably i should start following some other sports..

Posted by anush222 on (February 25, 2012, 5:04 GMT)

Aakash Chopra should be made the BCCI president. He must have a deep understanding of the problems in Indian domestic cricket to come up with such an article with clear suggestions. Enjoyed it. Please send this article to those who amended the rules.

Posted by   on (February 25, 2012, 4:48 GMT)

Nice article. Ganguly led team could have done more...

Posted by Paddle_Sweep on (February 25, 2012, 4:47 GMT)

Excellent article Aakash, to the point. Glad that there are still some people around in Indian cricket who talk sense.

Posted by anuradha_d on (February 25, 2012, 4:31 GMT)

Dear Aakash, I have said before that there is a lot of value in the cream of ranji players locking horn in Duleep Trophy......it's a selectors event......gives them a view of the top talent in the country in more competitive environment than an average Ranji games offers.......and that too in a condensed time frame of a few weeks.....Dinda was breathing fire and made this Duleep trophy season his own for example...and should be in the reckoning for a place in the national squad.....and did the technical comitee not approve playing junior cricket on uncovered pitches??......some good steps have been taken.....and an elephant cannot be eaten in a single bite....Shilpa

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Aakash ChopraClose
Aakash Chopra Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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