Ranji pitches and points system in focus
With another Ranji Trophy season set to begin, the familiar complaints about the quality of pitches and the points system are in the spotlight again. Too many sides are happy to roll out flat tracks and convert matches into first-innings batting shootouts. There were a few exceptions like Rohtak and Mohali, where bowlers enjoyed themselves last season, but in many other venues centuries came easily.
At the start of the 2012-13 season, under the supervision of Sanjay Jagdale, the former BCCI secretary, the board had asked the pitch and grounds committee to prepare true pitches. At the BCCI's captains and coaches meeting held at the end of the previous season, Jagdale had pointed out that the percentage of outright victories had actually increased overall across the country, though only marginally. Last year, in 115 Ranji matches, there were 45 outright results (39.1%), while in 2011-12 there were 34 outright results in 88 matches (38.6%).
Still, the bland nature of the surfaces has forced teams to target the three points on offer for taking a first-innings lead in a draw. "The standard of the wickets has to be improved a lot," Mumbai's coach, Sulakshan Kulkarni, said. Mumbai, traditionally the powerhouses of Indian domestic cricket, had only one outright victory in the league phase last season, but still accumulated enough points to sneak into the quarter-finals.
Tamil Nadu coach, WV Raman, remains positive that pitches will improve with time. "The directive to not have the tracks that were really flat or facilitate a run-fest has changed the dynamics somewhat," he said. "Teams will have to be patient before every venue implements the right measures."
More than the pitches, Raman said the grey area is the awarding of points to teams. Last year, the number of points awarded for a victory was increased from five to six, while the points for taking the first-innings lead in a draw was retained at three.
Raman felt teams needed to be given even more motivation to not settle for draws. "I still stick to my guns that the points system has to be changed," he said. "You still need to give some incentive to force the issue and go for outright victory, then it becomes a habit. We should also help teams learn to play under pressure and play to win."
One change both Kulkarni and Raman are happy with is the BCCI technical committee's move to give an additional day's break between group matches starting from the fourth round. The coaches felt the extra rest would help keep the best players fit throughout the campaign.
"The main reason is to give a break to fast bowlers," Kulkarni said. "Because injuries to them has become the biggest worry not only for the domestic teams but also for players who are on the fringes of selection into the Indian team."
Plenty of quick bowlers including Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, Varun Aaron and Zaheer Khan have spent lot of time recovering from injuries at the NCA in recent years. A coach of a prominent team chirps that the NCA was becoming renowned as a National Rehabilitation Centre, instead of an academy that grooms and readies a pool of match-fit players. The extra day's break will hopefully help the quicks maintain their fitness and make more of an impact on India's premier first-class tournament.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo