When Virat Kohli continued his super form and guided India to a facile win against the West Indies at Hyderabad, one couldn’t help feel if this series was needed to be held. India had just come back from the Caribbean (and United States of America) after a Twenty20 (T20), One Day Internationals (ODI) and a Test series in September this year. To engage with the Windies in yet another international series featuring three T20s and ODIs a few months later is a senseless exercise.
One is not referring to these six matches being purposeless based on the results, after India won the first T20 in comfort — chasing and winning a target of 207 runs with eight balls to spare — but the waste of time and energy of the team members who could well be playing a few matches of the Ranji Trophy, India’s national cricket championship.
The Ranji Trophy, the alma mater of cricketers in the country, begins on Monday and, sadly will be without key ‘A’ list players who are on national duty. There has always been a lament from state cricket associations across the country, who organise fixtures of this important tournament, that the matches are mostly played in empty stadiums with no spectators.
For many years a lot of senior Indian cricketers have been asking the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to slot a time frame where the current stars of Indian cricket can turn out for their states. This was an ideal time to get Indian top-liners to wear their state colours and play across small and big venues in the country which would certainly revive interest in the tournament which (over the past few years) is being played for the sake of holding it.
One says this as there have been no serious attempts (so far) by the BCCI to take measures to evoke interest in the championship which, at one point in time, had thousands flocking to watch their state heroes in action. The lack of famous names playing in this tourney, thanks to India’s packed international schedule, has kept the fans away from the grounds and consequently downgraded the championship which is the main feeder of talent.
Haphazard planning by the BCCI, where India takes on Australia, Zimbabwe (now postponed) and Sri Lanka in pointless home encounters (all short format) is pure overkill of spectator interest and looks like a way to give the broadcasters (who have anyway overpaid for rights) their pound of flesh. At the last Annual General Meeting of the BCCI, the new regime put issues like changing the guidelines of the Lodha Commission and resolving the conflict of interest issue at the fore while forgetting to streamline domestic cricket which has been languishing from a spectator interest perspective.
Reviving interest in the Ranji, Duleep and Irani Trophy matches — all long format games — was probably only on the minds of the new Apex council but certainly not on their ‘to do’ list. One would like to clarify that the current pointless India/West Indies series and the ones to follow have not been decided by the people who currently head the BCCI but have been formalised by the interim lot that ran the organisation during the changeover phase.
If the new Apex council of the BCCI believes in rejuvenating Test cricket in India the first step would be to put life back into domestic, long format fixtures like the Ranji, Duleep and Irani Trophies. It’s not just about getting spectators into the venues hosting the Ranji Trophy, but also about the kind of influence that players like Kohli, Rohit and others would have on young budding talent in their respective home states.
To spend time in the company of such luminaries on the field of play and the dressing room would have given the youngsters a lesson money cannot buy. In the 90s, players like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virendra Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly were blessed to have received the mentorship of senior international players while they cut their teeth in the Ranji Trophy. The last time Kohli turned out for Delhi in this tournament was seven years ago!
This was a golden opportunity to let superstars like Kohli, Rohit Sharma and others play the Ranji Trophy for their states rather than participate in meaningless International home series. By doing so, the BCCI would have made a bold statement that they do mean business when it comes to saving long format cricket rather than paying mere lip service. It’s now up to the new lot that are running cricket in India to focus on getting premier domestic tournaments like the Ranji Trophy back to the top, their deserved position.