June 15, 2012

A step ahead for Indian cricket

The restructured Ranji Trophy sounds like an improvement, but why do we still have the Duleep?

At last, some light at the end of what seemed an interminable tunnel. India's domestic cricket, as contemporary as the long-playing record and as effective as a coalition government, is letting itself change a bit. It was doing India's cricket no good at all, and while you could still do a bit of nitpicking with what this committee has come up with, the intent is admirable, and it will be disappointing if the changes are not accepted immediately.

As readers of this column may be aware, I have argued that the ideal number of teams in the Ranji Trophy is 12. Playing 27 teams entails diluting quality far too much. India's domestic cricket has long been irrelevant and uncompetitive, and at last that has been accepted. No change can begin unless there is an acceptance that the present system is ineffective.

We still have 27 teams (the political reality, as we see every day, often comes in the way of a greater good) but the marginal teams, those that bring the overall standard down, will now be marginalised further with the suggestion that you have three divisions of nine teams each. It might be harsh on them but if promotion to a higher group isn't an incentive, maybe they shouldn't be playing anyway.

There is an attempt to make each match competitive by allowing the top three in each of the first two groups to play the knockouts and the bottom two to go down. This is especially true of level two, where you could finish outside the top two, and therefore not be promoted, but still have the opportunity of playing the knockouts. And there is an opportunity for level three teams, with the top two allowed into the quarter-finals.

You could say that having two teams from the bottom nine will dilute the level of the knockout stage, but it could be just the reward for a team with ambition - as we saw with Rajasthan a couple of years ago. And even a team that finishes fourth in level one will have played eight first-class games, which is a couple short of ideal but better than how it is now.

The perfect follow-up to this would have been a respectful burial for the Duleep Trophy. When you are playing enough first-class games for your state side, there is nothing to be gained from the Duleep Trophy. Worse still, it promotes individual play, as that other irrelevant tournament, the Challenger, does too. Any tournament that has as its objective the promotion of individual effort and does nothing to promote a team ethic has to be scrapped, and so, while the Duleep Trophy honours one of our greats, it actually harms our cricket.

Any tournament that has as its objective the promotion of individual effort and does nothing to promote a team ethic has to be scrapped, and so, while the Duleep Trophy honours one of our greats, it actually harms our cricket

So does the Challenger. By allowing the winner of the Vijay Hazare Trophy to be one of the three teams involved, that is lessened marginally, but it is still an unnecessary tournament. Sometimes a body gets healthier by removing toxins. If you want domestic cricket to produce hardened team players, you cannot have events where players are just distributed around. Playing for two teams, a state team and the national team, should be good enough.

By allowing two bouncers an over in limited-overs cricket, this committee is testing batsmen a bit more and aligning rules to international limited-overs cricket, which is how it should be. It has also shown a desire to innovate by allowing one bowler 12 overs and keeping the others down to a maximum of ten. It will be interesting to see how captains play this, because, as with the Supersub, sometimes good ideas can be rendered ineffective by poor use by captains.

And right at the bottom of the pyramid comes a very interesting change. The Under-22 tournament as we knew it will no longer exist and will be replaced by the state A team, which can take players upto 25. For too long India's cricket has been obsessed with age, and that, as everyone knows, is an invitation to produce imaginative dates of birth. Many years ago the South Zone had a tournament everyone called the Junior State (the P Ramchandra Rao Trophy). You could play in it till you were 25, but not after you had made your Ranji Trophy debut. In essence it was an opportunity to look at players at a level higher than the top city league. It worked really well then, and I often wondered why the idea wasn't implemented elsewhere. Now it is going to be, but with teams allowed to play three Ranji Trophy players. I think it works well without the three, but I can see how having them is an attempt not just to make it more competitive but also to allow out-of-form state players to make a comeback. In the overall revamp it might seem like a small thing, but it shows an attention to detail that is heartwarming.

Maybe we need to look at this as Reforms 1.0, to be followed soon enough - no later than a year - by Reforms 2.0. There is room for other reforms too, especially to do with pitches; accounting in national and, especially, state bodies; and the remuneration structure for Test cricket, which should be at the heart of retaining that form of the game.

Ah, and one other thing. You put good people in good positions and you get good results.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on June 18, 2012, 13:50 GMT

    @sweetspot not clear from your analysis how any of this refutes any of the answers I gave to the original questions you posed on DRS. Very interested to learn how you believe that improving umpiring accuracy from 93% [pre DRS] to 98% (post DRS) does not improve the game of cricket.??? You also continue to fail to explain why India rejects DRS.

  • Senthil on June 17, 2012, 21:27 GMT

    @ Smithie - By your logic, you have the perfect comparison platform since other captains were using DRS while Dhoni was not in the same games! Getting it wrong or right can go any way. This is not meant to challenge the captain's judgment, it is the umpire's!!! Umpires were already well over 93% right when DRS was applied to the replays from games in which it was not officially employed. DRS is not just ball tracking, it is that wretched Hot Spot as well, which we know is a flop show. This is short stuff, all right. But it's not even pitching on the same ground.

  • Subash on June 16, 2012, 18:12 GMT

    I am not entirely sure this new format is going to bring forth any upcoming talent. The change or the shift has to happen at the grass root levels. Why are we not encouraging tournaments at the university level to identify the raw talents and groom them. Ranji trophy/Duleep trophy are not of interest to common cricket loving fan of India. The most important aspect is to keep politics and influence out of it to bring forth true talents in all forms of cricket (test match, ODI, and 20-20). We need to somehow popularize the university level cricket like the NCAA tournaments in US as the teams/players play for the pride and not for money.

  • Anil on June 16, 2012, 16:46 GMT

    I fully agree with Mr G Dalvi. Why do we have 3 teams from Maharashtra ie. Mumbai, Vidharba & Maharashtra or 3 teams from Gujarat like Vadodara, Saurashtra & Gujarat? BCCI should adopt England's structure by organizing league on the lines of Minor Counties with sub standard teams like J&K, Goa, Assam, Andhra, Kerala, Tripura & Services etc participating in it.

  • Asker on June 16, 2012, 4:44 GMT

    Well the article and the reason for the article is good- I would like to make a few suggestions even though it ain't gonna matter much. 1. The bottom two teams of A should be demoted to B and the bottom two teams of B should be delegated to C and vice versa the top two teams of C should be promoted to B and top two teams of B should be promoted to A, which has both incentives for performers and dis-incentives for non-performers. 2. I see a lot of people asking for scrapping some teams but judging by the recent turnout of players from smaller towns is the result of spreading cricket to non metro's. so it should be continued. 3. First innings lead bonus should be abolished and results based on first innings should be prohibited too because this results in meaningless batting marathons and individual statistics. 4. Good pitches should be made. 5. There should be state championship across the globe where top two teams from every country participates. 6. promote indians to play counties.

  • P Subramani on June 16, 2012, 4:15 GMT

    A good player should get noticed in the domestic tournaments. If there are too many tournaments, unless someone keeps performing every time, it is likely that there may be a loss of focus. That is what makes the Duleep Trophy important in my view. Here the best from each zone -- or almost the best -- gets to match their wits against the best of another zone. Since the matches are fewer there is more limelight on the better performing players. This enables a short list for the paid selectors.This apart, I feel that a good player gets noticed somehow.Ajit Wadekar and Sunil Gavaskar scored big in the Rohinton Baria and came to be noticed. Their progress was monitored with more than casual interest by genuine followers of the game,more significantly in the Duleep Trophy.Similarly, Umesh Yadav a late bloomer, got noticed because he got the prized scalps of Dravid and Laxman in a few balls in a Duleep game. The point is that from larger pools players can be short listed by the Duleep games.

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2012, 2:35 GMT

    Harsha,Good Article but disagree on Duleep Trophy part.You need to select the best 15 among the top 55 players or so.Instead we can scrap the Syed Mushtaq Trophy and Deodhar Trophy giving more time and importance for Duleep Trophy as a home and away league based tourney.Ranji Trophy can be a feeder and yeah 27 teams is too high.You can scrap few teams like Goa,Tripura,Andhra,Vidarbha,Baroda,Saurasthra etc and merge them with their neighbours like Goa with Karnataka,Andhra with Hyderabad,Vidarbha with Maharashtra,Saurashtra and Baroda with Gujarat,Tripura with Assam etc.

  • Aditya on June 15, 2012, 22:01 GMT

    Why not give the Ranji teams to the IPL franchises and stop all this state non-sense business. They can get better sponsorship, get more crowds and people associate themselves with them as it is. Some foreign players will get to play. Get some day and night 4 day cricket. Spice up the wickets so there is almost always a result. Get BCCI to partner in the cost sharing, overall it will be not be a money making business. Also India's needs to cut down test cricket with weak teams. No point playing test cricket with Bangladesh, NZ and WI. Crowds don't want it.

  • Krish on June 15, 2012, 21:05 GMT

    Harsha :The State A teams ---> to Ranji is a great step (getting rid of under 22) . A tournament hierarchy is required similarly for ODI & T20 (I view it as one category) . Secondly Im not sure if the reforms have touched how the Contracted list of players ( currently 36) is established. This list shd be the basis for National 11/16, and the National A side. There shd be a separate contracted list for ODI cum T20. Finally there seems to be space for ONE tournament in each of the above two category, for a zone to make a call on who are its best players they want to showcase as input for selection into the Contracted lists by the National Selectors . Call it whatever name (maybe jointly two veteran names !) but just ONE tournament. But the zone tournament must come after the base level tournaments in the schedule. If the zonal input considerations are thus satisfied then the National Selectors can comprise of just the 5 best selectors irrespective Zone, ie no quota system!

  • Nilesh on June 15, 2012, 17:40 GMT

    I have mentioned before of how I would like the IPL to tie-in to domestic cricket and suggested that the uncapped players be selected only from the particular zone as the IPL team. So, perhaps MI and PW should be allowed to select only the players from West Zone. That will provide an incentive for the IPL owners to help groom young domestic cricket players throughout the year in the same zone and benefit them during the IPL. There would also be co-operation between multiple IPL franchises in the same zone which I think would be beneficial.

    I would like to think of the Duleep Trophy as a tournament that selects and ratifies the best players in the zone. Its more of a chance to determine the best Ranji players that year for that zone.

    There needs to be a well defined process by which a player does well in the Ranji->selected for Duleep Trophy, does well there->Selected for India "A", does well there->Selected for Indian team as gaps are identified. Often the elevation is very ad-hoc.

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