Three home games in Ranji quarters
There has been plenty of talk of playing the Ranji Trophy knockouts at neutral venues but that came to an end on Thursday with the BCCI confirming that three of the quarterfinalists will get home games.
While announcing the draw for knockout stage, the BCCI declared that the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, Eden Gardens in Kolkata and Moti Bagh ground in Vadodara will host the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals, to be played from January 8 to 12. The first three venues will host a game involving the corresponding home team.
The decision went against the demand voiced during the captains' and coaches' conclave at the end of the last domestic season. Offspinner Harbhajan Singh had also supported the idea of playing knockout games at neutral venues following Punjab's tame draw against Jharkhand in Jamshedpur during last year's quarter-final played on a placid pitch.
The technical committee, headed by former India captain Anil Kumble, had discussed the concept in detail on March 22.
On Thursday, Ratnakar Shetty, BCCI general manager - game development, told ESPNcricinfo that the decision to play knockouts at neutral venues was never made. "This was one of the issues that was discussed threadbare. And at the end of it, it was decided that the chairman of technical committee will be consulted with while finalising a list of potential venues for hosting the knockout games," Shetty said. "So it was always going to be a case of pre-decided or BCCI-decided venues, and not neutral venues."
Elaborating on the rationale behind playing matches at pre-decided venues, Shetty said the concept was to play all important games on "sporting pitches monitored by BCCI curators". As a result, curators of ten grounds - Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Vadodara, Mohali, Indore, Hyderabad, Lahli, Jaipur and Mysore - had been asked to start preparing a wicket "almost three weeks ago".
Since the finalisation of the the venues, Daljit Singh, head of BCCI's grounds and pitches committee, has been in Kolkata overseeing the track's preparation. The veteran curator is scheduled to fly to Mumbai from Kolkata while PR Viswanathan, the South Zone representative in the committee, has been stationed in Bangalore. Similarly, Dhiraj Parsana will be in Vadodara till the quarterfinal gets underway.
One of the quarterfinals will be played at a neutral venue, with Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir facing off at the Moti Bagh ground in Vadodara. "Since three of the four quarterfinals have home venues, we didn't have to do too much of manoeuvring," Shetty said. "If Punjab make it to the semis, they will also have an opportunity to play at home."
The quarterfinal line-up pits Bengal and Railways against each other though they were both in group B in the league phase. Shetty explained that the clash of two teams in the same group was inevitable due to the format of the draw. "Last year's semi-finalists are always given seeding, with the top two set to play the two teams from Group C. Since only two teams from last year's top four had qualified for the knockouts, the rest of the positions were decided due to draw of lots."
Quarterfinals (January 8 to 12)
1. Mumbai v Maharashtra - Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai (to be telecast live)
2. Bengal v Railways - Eden Gardens, Kolkata
3. Karnataka v Uttar Pradesh - M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore
4. Punjab v Jammu & Kashmir - Motibaug, Baroda
Semifinals (January 18 to 22)
Winner of 1 v Winner of 2 - Holkar Stadium, Indore Winner of 3 v Winner of 4 - PCA Stadium, Mohali (to be telecast live)
Final (January 29 to February 2)
Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Uppal, Hyderabad (to be telecast live)
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo