Now that the bowlers in first-class cricket will be allowed to bowl a couple of bouncers per over in a fifty-over game, knock-out matches will last five days, Duleep trophy will happen before the Ranji season and Irani after the both of them—we shall be the number 1 side in the world very soon. Blame me for being a doubting Thomas, but the hullabaloo around the domestic structure overhauling did, at least for a bit, encourage the optimist in me. I assume the intent was noble; the execution though has left much to be desired. Spurred by India’s abysmal showings internationally, Ganguly & Co. sought to refurbish first-class cricket—the mandarins need to be lauded for deciphering and deducing the problem logically. The need of the hour demanded some tough, path-breaking revisions of cricket constitution—what we ultimately saw was a shot in the dark. The timing for these radical changes was perfect too—calls to fix the mess had already gained much ground and none would have resisted change. Unlike previous times, especially when BCCI had rightly suggested the scrapping of the redundant Deodhar Trophy—media and certain factions were up in arms.
Unfortunately, what was sold to us in the garb of reformations was nothing but a ‘supposedly sincere looking, artificial attempt at modernization’.
Allow me to elucidate.
New point system, how new?
Technical Committee recommendations—earlier, if both competing teams failed to complete their first innings in four days, each walked away with a zero on their points table. The new rule allows them a point each now. Also, the knockout matches can be extended for one more day, in case the first innings aren’t completed in 5 days. Finally, the hosts will be docked 2 points if they dish out an underprepared surface for the game.
Ask a domestic circuit veteran, and he’ll inform that the chances of first innings not concluding in four whole days are as minimum as possible—last season, only one league match saw such a result, out of over a 100 odd matches played. How does one justify a rule which affects only 1/100th? Can one really call it a ‘reform’?
Well, the real bane of domestic cricket, in the midst of all this humbug, has been completely and grossly missed—that of granting three points for a first-innings lead, thereby making it of utmost importance. The repercussions of such a mindless rule ought to be predictable. Over the years, we’ve rarely seen teams going that extra yard for an outright win, since the reward of just two extra points doesn’t justify the effort. The understanding is—if we can do with 3 points, then why slog for 5? This safety first approach leads to a majority of drawn games in the first few rounds and teams punt only when relegation/promotion is on the line. If a rule encourages and rewards mediocrity, isn’t it time to dump it?
My recommendations to the committee included—a. introducing batting and bowling points throughout the match and a substantial bonus (10 points) for an outright win? b. One could even debate putting a cap on the number of overs till the batting points are available, post which only the bowling team could get points. My suggestion would be to have a maximum of 5 batting/bowling points for every 75 runs and 2 wickets respectively. Though the batting points could only be gained till the 120thover. That way, the teams would be encouraged to bat at a fair clip and also declare after 120 overs, for bowling team could keep getting points for taking wickets. c. The same points system should continue in the second innings with a bonus of 10 points for winning the game, while the losing team keeps the bowling/batting points.
In the prevailing points-system, teams shy away from setting up the match, for losing the match means not gaining any points. If we need to improve the quality of cricket at the domestic-level, we must overhaul the points system. We can’t assume to produce new-age cricketers with archaic rules.
Lastly, docking a couple of points to penalize the hosts for dishing out an underprepared surface is a noble idea but what about the associations who dish out highways for tracks? Shouldn’t we find a way to penalize them too?
Technical Committee Recommendation—Overruling the Working Committee’s suggestions of playing all matches at neutral venues, the technical committee has recommended all matches to be played on home and away basis, like all previous years.
One can understand the rationale behind sticking to home and away matches—playing at neutral venues may not encourage fans to come and support their teams, thereby leading to empty stadiums. Well considered, but once again, the committee hasn’t recommended anything to ensure that all matches are played on sporting surfaces. Evidently, when the working committee decided on neutral venues, they did so because of the vested interests of host associations in the preparation of pitches. The decision of subtracting points of host teams who dish out underprepared pitches is commendable, but is still only half-way.
Sample this—11 out of 13 matches in the first round of the Ranji Trophy this season ended in draws. Plenty of runs were scored in the first round, which included Ravinder Jadeja’s triple century and few double centuries too. On the contrary, only two bowlers managed five wicket hauls. The point I’m trying to make here is simple—the tracks on which the Ranji Trophy is played are only good for batting. Bowlers are mere participants and not competitors, for the odds are stacked heavily against them to make an impression.
The worst part about these batting friendly conditions is that we end up encouraging even a run of the mill performance. Batsmen, who’ve piled on thousands of runs on these batting beauties, are found woefully out of their depth in challenging conditions, internationally. But I wouldn’t blame these batsmen for not working on their technique—a player is but a product of the environment he grows up in. If a player has played most of his cricket on surfaces where the ball rarely bounces above the knee height, it’s unrealistic to expect that he’d be comfortable playing at Perth or Durban. If we really want to prepare our players for bouncy and seaming conditions, it’s important to expose them to these conditions regularly. Otherwise why would a player work on playing the ball late, in the second line etc. when all he needs to do to score runs in domestic circuit is to plant his front foot and play through the line.
There’s an urgent need to have a powerful central pitch committee, which should be responsible for the quality of pitches across the country. The method of passing on the directives to the state associations and penalizing them for dishing out poor surfaces hasn’t worked so far. Hence, it’s important to assume control and get directly involved in the preparation of those vital 22 yards.
Having all matches at neutral venues had its pitfalls, but it would have, at least to a certain extent, addressed this issue successfully.
Restructuring Domestic Calendar
Technical Committee recommendations–Duleep Trophy, instead of being played at the end, will now be played at the start of the season. Irani trophy will be played at the end of the season, while Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy will be played at one stretch.
How would restructuring of tournaments help, when the problem wasn’t this to begin with? The real issue here was the choc-o-block calendar—mere rescheduling won’t justify senseless tournaments. Simply changing the dates of a tournament isn’t going to make any difference to the standard of competition or its relevance. If we can’t do away with redundant tournaments, we must invest thought in making them worth their while. Duleep trophy can be a fantastic tournament provided it’s played on league basis and all the top Indian players are available to participate. Same is the case with Deodhar trophy, for a knockout tournament lasting 4 days isn’t going to help anyone’s cause.
The technical committee had a brilliant opportunity to shelve Duleep, Deodhar and Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy to give more space and importance to the Ranji trophy and the Vijay Hazare trophy. Moreover, Elite & Plate divisions have proved to be successful systems of dividing teams and holding competitions, why then opt for an archaic zone wise split for the fifty-over format?
All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward—the technical committee may have brought in a few changes, the question remains—do they really mean anything? Domestic cricket is the engine which runs Indian cricket—when the engine demands overhauling, how would merely an upholstery change matter?
This entry was posted on Monday, February 27th, 2012 at 9:04 am
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