August 1, 2012

India, look after your young

Four ways the BCCI can make first-class cricket as attractive as the IPL to budding cricketers

India have slipped to No. 5 in the Test rankings - their lowest in the last five years. Even though rankings mean little unless taken in context, India's decline in Test cricket is apparent. They were No. 1 when they arrived in England last year. By the time they finished their series in Australia six months later, one of the best eras of Indian cricket had come to an end.

In the last four parts of my review of Indian cricket, I examined some of the problems: While there's an apparent dearth of quality openers, the middle-order has showed some promise. Quality spinners aren't coming through the ranks, but there's hope in the seam bowling department. In the final part of this series, I will look at ways to encourage young Indian players to not only play first-class cricket but to mould their games to suit the demands of Test cricket.

Sachin Tendulkar said recently that there's no system to ensure that youngsters like Test cricket, because it has to come from within. Quite true. The general consensus is that the younger generation of cricketers prefers T20 over other formats. But there's a distinction between liking T20 and playing in the IPL. If you take away the glamour and the money from the IPL, many cricketers would give the tournament a miss.

Before you accuse me of it, let me assure you this isn't another excuse to slam the IPL. It is about finding ways to make first-class cricket in India more relevant. Unfortunately the IPL has created several problems for Indian cricket. The solution isn't to abandon or condemn the league but to give first-class and national cricket preference over it. If the IPL loses a bit of its sheen in the process, it will be a small price for India to pay for climbing back to the top.

Bring parity between IPL and Ranji payments
At the risk of upsetting a few players and sounding like a radical, I suggest that to make sure cricketers take the longer format as seriously as the IPL, the BCCI bridge the gap between the money an uncapped IPL player makes and what a first-class player earns in a season. At present the gulf is so huge that anyone in his right mind would happily sacrifice his first-class career to be a part of the IPL. Remember, financial insecurity was the root cause for the exodus to the Indian Cricket League.

There are only two ways to bring parity: substantially increase the money a first-class cricketer makes in a season, and limit how much a player with fewer than 50 India appearances can earn during an IPL season.

No matter how impressive you have been in the IPL, if you can't back it up with strong domestic and India A results, you should not stand a chance of getting picked for ODI and Test cricket

All the uncapped players are likely to go under the hammer next season. It will be worth including in this list players like Saurabh Tiway, Shikhar Dhawan and M Vijay, who haven't yet played 50 games for India each.

Also, set the cap on what a player can receive close to what he would normally make in a first-class season. Franchises can bid higher for such a player, with the amount bid over and above going to the IPL. This cash can later be routed back to first-class cricket and be deducted from a franchise's overall purse.

If the BCCI thinks bringing parity in payments for uncapped players in the IPL and domestic cricketers will make a large dent in their finances (there are over 500 cricketers who play first-class cricket every year), they can at least try to match the IPL payments for the top 20 batsmen, bowlers and allrounders (so 60 in all) in the domestic circuit through a bonus clause.

Such an arrangement will encourage young Indian players to work hard on the first-class circuit to reach that coveted 50-appearances mark, while those who are still only playing first-class cricket will try to finish among of the season's top performers. Some players may lose out on the money they deserve but Indian cricket will benefit on the whole.

Base selections only on first-class performances
Another way to ensure that first-class cricket stays relevant is to make sure national selection is always based on four-day performances. No matter how impressive you have been in the IPL, if you can't back it up with strong domestic and India A results, you should not stand a chance of getting picked for ODI and Test cricket. The moment India start picking players from the IPL, they devalue their first-class set-up, which leads to players losing focus. Yes, there's a need to improve the standard of first-class cricket in India but that doesn't mean IPL performances should count for more. After all how many IPL success stories have made a significant mark in international cricket so far, even in T20 cricket?

Protect Indian assets during the IPL
The BCCI must assume complete control over its contracted players, even during the IPL. If a player is nursing an injury and needs to immediately take a break, the BCCI must step in to ensure he does, while also compensating the player and the franchise.

While it's convenient to expect players to forego large sums of money to remain fit for the Indian team, if we don't want another situation where most players miss the international tour that follows the IPL, like with India's tour to the West Indies in 2011, the board needs to secure the players' interests.

Protect young spinners from the IPL
Part three of my review highlighted the dearth of good spinners in the domestic set-up. It is important to ensure that the few promising ones aren't lost to the IPL. Once identified as future prospects for India, these youngsters must be kept away from the IPL till they are mature enough to handle the demands of T20 cricket without compromising the skills they need to succeed in the longer format. It's for the BCCI to ensure that these youngsters are looked after properly and that they don't lose out financially. Quality spinners are an endangered species and must be protected.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vijay on August 2, 2012, 14:18 GMT

    I have a suggesstion. Close down MRF pace academy. Lets accept it we will never get 140+ bowlers.Infact we dont need 140+ bowlers. We should target making Pollock or Mcrath types of bowlers who decent speed but deadly accuracy type of bowlers . Make a swing and spin academy. Make Kumble spin coach and maybe pollock/Mcgrath coach for medium pacers. Pick up 10 young spinners and 10 medium pacers who show talent and hardworking potential . Make all types of track at academy ( green tracks , spin tracks , flat tracks) and make them practice day in and day out . Then identify 10 test match potential batters (pujara , Rahane ,Zol , Chand , Rohit etc) and ask them to practice batting to these bowlers on those tracks for 2 months a year. BCCI is so rich it can take care of these players financially for missing out T20 IPL.

  • VENKATACHALAM on August 2, 2012, 10:22 GMT

    There is a simple, straight forward solution to this: Allow players(both Indian and International) only above the age of 22 to play in the IPL. Most of Indian cricket's and world cricket's troubles will go away in one stroke.

  • Krish on August 2, 2012, 9:55 GMT

    Akash, another terrific one. For within 50 appearances you are going to have one of two things happen: either the player is so good in the longer format that he sees an intrinsic value in pursuing it, even gets India colours or an India contract or (2) he quits and goes IPL , no fears because if hes not good enough in the longer format then he shdnt be continuing there in the first place! It will help ensure a playe doesnt forsake the longer format for the sake of filthy lucre ALONE

  • Dummy4 on August 2, 2012, 6:35 GMT

    I dont see too many sensible heads around in Indian cricket at the moment. So such articles are like a breath of fresh air. Those from whom we would expect to make balanced views have all let us down. For a few $$ they all scream inane comments during the IPL. What a shame !! Well, i am a fair critic of IPL...though in many senses i hate it as well...but the point is that there has to be a good balance. Players should never be picked for IPL performances. Why cant BCCI pay them well in domestic cricket. Make the matches more spectator friendly too.Players should be picked only for these performances. And ohh i can certainly see some legs falling off from IPL..i am waiting to see how many teams will be financially stable next time around !!!

  • Arvind on August 2, 2012, 6:20 GMT

    Take the hot half-naked cheer girls out of IPL and even IPL matches will witness empty stands.

  • Ashok on August 2, 2012, 5:37 GMT

    No point fighting the market forces and also the fact that fast bowlers are less & less interested in bowling on dead pitches for a long time. There is a way to save first class cricket - create a eight team top division playing round robin and a a finals, relegate the last finisher, and put the rest of the teams in two lower divisions. Have points only for outright wins and use wickets taken (dont recognise runs or runs/wkt) for tie breakers. Allow unlimited recruiting like it is done for European clubs with no salary caps and allow up to four international players. Five day cricket is extremely interesting provided the matches are of high quality and there are enough people in India to actively support a 3 month first class league that is top notch. We need to stop playing the same old music of drab Ranji matches and a zillion trivial teams (Vidharba anyone??). IPL has ambition, time the first class matches get it too. Afterall they have the advantage of class.

  • Jay on August 2, 2012, 4:13 GMT

    @SouthPaw: Many Indians don't favour tests much. I am an Indian too and I am not a big test cricket fan. India as a nation love the thrills of ODI and T20 cricket. Even before T20, ODI cricket brought out the best in India. Since winning the world cup in 1983, Indians have been fascinated with limited overs cricket. They were like "hmm, here were have an opportunity to become a good cricket playing nation". Cause historically, India have never been a good test playing nation barring the dominance at home. So it's natural as Indians we choose what we are good in. India will NEVER pay attention to test cricket. It's evident from the empty grounds at Ranji Trophy games and international tests. The people who do come to the stadium are usually free admits or students from schools. No 20,000 or 30,000 like the Boxing Day test or anywhere in England. So yeah test cricket needs saving, at least in India more so because India is the engine room of world cricket.

  • sunil on August 2, 2012, 2:31 GMT

    India have been very successful in all formats of the game since the new generation players have come into the team. We have won the cb series, T20 and ODI wc because of them. we were able to remain no. 1 team in test cricket because of them.

    new generation players like dhoni, gambhir, raina, kohli, praveen kumar, ishant sharma, ojha, etc. got chances to play in the national team, get experience and security because of one person chiefly and he is Greg Chappell. It was because of him that so many youngsters got chance to play in the indian team and prosper by getting the much needed experience.

    So more than wright and kirsten it is chappell we have to thank because of whose policies we have reached so far. if greg was not there sachin, dravid, laxman, ganguly, kumble, etc. would have played the cb series, t20 and odi wc and we would have won neither of these...

  • Dummy4 on August 2, 2012, 1:30 GMT

    Unfortunately, none of your suggestions are feasible or practical. Artificial limits and arrangements like this will never be acceptable especially when there is no financial incentive driving them. Saving the future of Indian Test cricket is an objective with no financial incentives for anyone. Expect IPL to be the first and maybe the only priority of Indian cricketers in due time. The best talent will be honing their skills for IPL and striving to play for IPL. The IPL players won't care too much about winning or losing when playing for National team. Indian cricket will end up like NFL, NHL, NBA or professional tennis in USA. Nobody cares about the National teams for these sports.

  • Ian on August 1, 2012, 23:54 GMT

    I think far more than the loss of the great players, India will mourn the loss of Gary Kirsten - South Africa are currently gaining a lot of confidence and looking very very good against England. Kirsten brought a lot of self-belief, confidence and order to the Indian setup.

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