Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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Captains and coaches of Ranji Trophy teams in India have demanded a revamp of the domestic cricket calendar and have suggested that the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the BCCI's annual domestic T20 competition, be held before the IPL auction.
In a meeting that lasted for over two hours in New Delhi, representatives from most Ranji sides also asked for an increase in spinner-friendly pitches and an improvement in umpiring standards across domestic cricket. The scheduling clash between the Ranji Trophy and the Under-23 tournament, the CK Nayudu Trophy, was also discussed.
"The captains and coaches raised a couple of key issues including the scheduling of matches, quality of balls and various formats. The best of this will be discussed in the technical committee meeting which is scheduled to be held in Kolkata later this month," Anil Kumble, chairman of the BCCI's technical committee, told reporters after the meeting. "They (captains and coaches) are happy in the way it is conducted."
According to player representatives, the current scheduling of the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament did not serve its purpose of helping cricketers get noticed by IPL franchises, and did not attract top cricketers, either
For the last three seasons, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy has been held at the end of the domestic calendar and often, the tournament's super league stage has clashed with the IPL. Last year, the BCCI made it mandatory for all players contracted in the IPL to play for their respective teams in the zonal leagues of the tournament but allowed them to skip the super league and join their IPL franchises instead. This affected the quality of matches in the super league and the teams' strategies.
The same scenario is likely to repeat itself with this year's zonal leagues set to played in the last weeks of March before the start of the Super League in the first week of April in Bhubaneswar. The opening match of IPL 2015 is scheduled for April 8.
The BCCI technical committee will now have to decide on its recommendations to the tours, programme and fixtures committee. It could either suggest the T20 tournament be played in October, like in 2010-11, or recommend a window in the middle of the Ranji Trophy for the T20 tournament.
The captains and coaches also requested that the CK Nayudu Trophy be completed before the start of the Ranji Trophy so that the best players are available for both tournaments. Last year, the BCCI scheduled all the rounds of the CK Nayudu Trophy a day after the start of Ranji games so that the reserves in Ranji teams could be released for the U-23 games. This, however, created logistical challenges for the teams.
The Ranji teams were also equivocal in demanding pitches with some assistance for spinners. A majority of state associations have followed the BCCI's diktat of preparing pace-friendly tracks but it has resulted in spinners being marginalised in the premier domestic championship. It is understood that Harbhajan Singh, who was appointed Punjab's captain for the season, cited instances of how pitches had remained hard through the four-day games, depriving spinners of any assistance.
The teams also appealed for better umpiring standards in domestic cricket and pointed out that poor umpiring had impacted several last-round Ranji matches, and the knockout games. The quality of balls used has also been a concern, as these had to be changed frequently during the games.
The captains and coaches conclave is seen as a feedback system in the domestic cricket set-up and many suggestions over the last few meetings have been taken up and incorporated. In the last conclave, held in 2013, teams had suggested neutral venues for the Ranji Trophy knockouts and this was taken up. Captains and coaches had also previously suggested the revamp of the Under-25 tournament into an Under-23 one and this was accepted with the change in the CK Nayudu Trophy.
The last such conclave was held in Mumbai in March 2013. The meeting wasn't convened last year, with the BCCI mired in various controversies in the aftermath of the 2013 IPL corruption scandal.
The meeting was attended by captains or coaches of 24 of the 27 state associations. Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra were not represented at the meeting. Apart from Kumble, secretary Anurag Thakur, treasurer Anirudh Chaudhry, joint secretary Amitabh Choudhary, pitches and curators committee chief Daljit Singh, general manager (cricket operations) Dr MV Sridhar, general manager (game development) Prof Ratnakar Shetty and IPL chief operating officer Sundar Raman attended the meeting.