Aakash Chopra

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Former India opener Aakash Chopra is one of the best thinkers and writers on the game. Find out more at www.cricketaakash.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @cricketaakash

How Ranji Trophy Pitches Reward Mediocrity

 

It is heartening that the first round of
the Ranji trophy created a flutter — if certain stats are to be believed, it
generated more interest than some of the matches in the Champions League. We, the
First Class cricketers, are used to playing in empty stadia, performing only
for scorers and the selectors.

 

This year, while the elevated interest didn't
bring people in hordes to the grounds, it did feel good that people beyond our
immediate family and friends are taking note of our performances.

 

We, Rajasthan, were lucky to have played
our first game at a smaller centre, Udaipur. A few hundred people turned up to
watch us. The curator did a fine job in creating the sort of wicket that kept
the crowd coming back every day.

 

The wicket suited the quicks on Day 1 and
2, and spinners on Day 3 and 4. And if you batted well you could also score big — K
B Pawan proved it with a brilliant double ton. Though the game was drawn, there
was plenty of drama with at least two results possible till the end overs. This
is how we prefer our First Class matches to be played.

 

Unfortunately, the Udaipur game is an
aberration. Eleven out of 13 matches in the first round of the Ranji Trophy
ended in draws. These included matches in which the first innings of both teams
weren't completed. Plenty of runs were scored. Ravindra Jadeja made a triple
century and there were a few doubles too. On the contrary, only two bowlers had
fivers.

 

Poor Wickets Create Poor Cricketers

 

The point I'm trying to make 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.

 

These batting friendly conditions reward mediocrity.
Batsmen who pile thousands of runs on these batting beauties are found woefully
out of their depth in challenging conditions. But I don't blame these batsmen
for not working on their technique, for a player is a product of the
environment he grows up in.

 

If he has played mostly on surfaces where
the ball rarely bounces above knee height, it's unrealistic to expect him to be
comfortable playing in Perth or Durban. If we really want to prepare 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, or in the second line, when all he needs to do is plant his front-foot down and play through the line.

 

We need a radical shift in the way we
approach and conduct our domestic cricket. The quality of the playing strip is
directly proportional to the quality of cricket and players we produce. There's
an urgent need to have a powerful (both with regards to the man power and the
authority) central pitch committee, which should be responsible for the quality
of pitches across the country.

 

The method of passing on directives to state
associations and penalising them for 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.

 

Food for thought: If we penalise state
associations for under-prepared surfaces, shouldn't we also penalize them for
making highways in the name of cricket pitches?

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