Can big guns returning to Ranji help revive domestic cricket?
Unlike his usual uneventful run, there is a flurry of activity and much excitement in the current domestic season, which will hit top gear when the Ranji Trophy tournament kicks off on Friday. Normally shunned by our India players, who are either busy turning out for the country or enjoying a break before plunging into action afresh, many of them are this time are hoping to iron out their flaws before the England Test series kicks off mid November.
The timing of the Ranji season has played a part in this as much as the batting transition the India team is currently going through. The India stars making a beeline for their respective Ranji sides also has a lot to do with the way India capitulated in two successive Test series, in England and Australia. There are quite a few who are keen to get their touch back before the team for the first Test is picked on November 5, by when the first set of Ranji games would have been played.
Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are both feeling the heat due to their poor form in Test cricket and will turn out for Delhi against Uttar Pradesh while Sachin Tendulkar, in the twilight of his career and bowled three times in a row in the home series against New Zealand wants to make sure he dusts off the rust ahead of the busy season.
There is no doubt that the quality of the competition will only go up if many of the India regulars, and those who have been in and out of the national side but have a long career ahead of them, play domestic matches. Yuvraj Singh and Cheteshwar Pujara are two examples, their big innings in the Duleep Trophy and Challenger Trophy respectively adding interest to the competitions.
However, once the Test series begins, it would be back to square one, barring perhaps the presence of the gifted and recently retired VVS Laxman, who will play for Hyderabad in an effort to revive the team.
So, where will it leave domestic cricket? Although international cricket in India is a massive success in terms for fan following and commercial support, Ranji Trophy action often wallows in mediocrity with even the final stages of the championship not attracting enough interest. While players get paid handsomely to play for their states, the competition itself has been reduced to finding talent for the national team and an avenue for out-of-favour or out-of-form India stars to hone their skills.
There was a time when Ranji matches drew tremendous response from spectators and inspired players to give off their best. With the Indian team looking shaky and public interest waning as a result, the cricket bosses must urgently find ways to ensure domestic matches stay relevant.
Playing matches on quality pitches would be a start. For that states should be persuaded to focus on the basic playing facilities and take matches to small towns. With the International Cricket Council giving the green light for day-night Tests, floodlight Ranji games would be another way to draw spectators. Otherwise, it would continue to remain a meaningless exercise.
By N Ananthanarayanan