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Domestic teams want more Ranji matches, better balls

An aircraft flies over the Palam ground in Delhi, during the Delhi v Maharashtra Ranji Trophy game Sidharth Monga/ESPNcricinfo

Captains and coaches of India's domestic sides have called for an increase in the number of round-robin matches in the Ranji Trophy and the use of quality balls in domestic tournaments. At a meeting in Mumbai to gather feedback on the 2017-18 domestic season from the captains and coaches, there were discussions on scheduling, umpiring standards, pitches and pay hikes. Sourav Ganguly, the chairman of the BCCI's technical committee, Saba Karim, the board's general manager of cricket operations, and MSK Prasad, the chairman of the senior men's selection committee, were present at the meeting.

ESPNcricinfo understands the BCCI had invited teams to offer feedback on the aforementioned issues about a month ago. It is learnt that a number of coaches and captains favoured reverting to the earlier Ranji Trophy format in which the teams, divided into three groups, played a minimum of eight matches each. The new format introduced last season, had 28 teams split into four groups of seven each, meaning each side played six matches in the group stages. Andhra coach Sanath Kumar said an increase in the number of matches played would give players more opportunities to showcase their talent. "After working so hard ahead of the season, almost 80 percent of the teams will only get to play 24 days of first-class cricket [in the existing format]," he told ESPNcricinfo. "They should ideally get to play more cricket."

Mumbai captain Aditya Tare echoed Sanath's opinion and said the current format made it difficult for teams to come back into the competition after a bad start. "If a team has had a bad game or has missed a game due to the weather, it becomes very difficult for them to get into the groove," he said. "Take the example of Hyderabad, who missed two games at the start of the last season due to rain, and found it hard to come back into the competition. So going back to the three-group format will be better and players will also have better opportunities."

Both Tare and Sanath said nearly every team welcomed the return to the home-and-away format in the Ranji Trophy after the experiment with neutral venues in 2016-17, and also the concept of neutral curators. The quality of balls used in domestic cricket, however, has been another persistent issue. Balls going out of shape has been a frequent occurrence in the Ranji Trophy over the last few years - there have been instances of balls being changed as many as three or four times in a single session.

The players have also urged the BCCI to revisit the use of the SG LE white ball in the shorter formats. The captain of a top state team felt the gulf in the quality between the white Kookaburra ball and the SG Test LE was huge. "I can understand the logic of playing with the SG Test LE if it was used in limited-overs internationals played in India, like the SG Test which is used in Test matches in India and thereby employed in Ranji Trophy cricket as well," the player said. "When you play with the white Kookaburra in international matches, it would make sense for players to get a hang of it in domestic cricket as well."

Sanath, however, said that while the BCCI had agreed to work on the quality of the balls, it had indicated that the use of the SG Test LE would continue. "The BCCI said it will work with the manufacturers to ensure the quality of the red and white balls get better," he said. "The board feels the SG Test LE can be used in limited-overs internationals played in India and in the IPL over a period of time, after improvements are made to its quality."

Umpiring was another area that left a lot to be desired, according to Tare, and was a matter of concern for many that attended the meeting. "When players do something wrong they are penalised for that. We are criticised or dropped following a bad performance," Tare said. "The umpiring has been an issue for many years now and something has to be done to ensure that certain standards are maintained. If someone is consistently having bad games as an umpire, then he could be made to go back to officiating in age-group cricket [to prove his abilities]. That's what my suggestion was."

A state captain felt it was also time to return to the run-quotient rule instead of net run-rate, which is used as the tie-breaker when teams are level on points. "I have raised this issue several times in the past, but there has been little progress on this front," he said. "I don't think the net run-rate is relevant in the longer format. The bowling should also come into play and that's why the quotient rule works better."

The coaches and captains, though, welcomed the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators' decision to increase the remuneration of players. The revised pay structure will see a first-class cricketer earn INR 35,000 per day for a four-day match apart from a percentage of the BCCI's profits. "It is a real boost for the players and will give an incentive to talented cricketers to pursue cricket as a professional option and not drop out in favour of other career options," Sanath said.