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

Time For Home Improvement

India's domestic cricket is full
of misplaced priorities and redundant ideas. The England defeat offers a chance to analyse its failings.

 

 

 

Much has been spoken about India's terrible
trounce in England - right from the lack of preparedness, poor planning to
crammed schedule, everything has been meticulously discussed. But few have looked
beyond the obvious and deliberated upon the fundamentals.

 

MAK Pataudi, with his astute eye for
cricket, hit the nail on its head by pointing out the importance of a robust
first-class structure to strengthen Indian cricket. That India's poor show
could be the result of a deteriorating domestic structure is an idea worth a
thought. So, what is it that is marring the foundation of Indian cricket?
Here's a look at the snags that need some urgent attention:

 

Irani
Trophy (October 1-5) -
The most prestigious match
of the season between the defending Ranji Champions and a team made up of the cream
of Indian cricket marks the beginning of the new first-class season. It's a
five-day match to showcase India's best talent. A brilliant way to start the
season, it can serve its purpose only if the best cricketers in the country are
available to play.

 

I remember playing for Delhi in an Irani
trophy match against the Anil Kumble-led Rest of India. It was a spectacle. But
this year, the coveted Irani trophy clashes with the Champions League, which
means cricketers from four franchisees won't be available for selection.
Haven't we devalued the most important match of the season?

 

Challenger
Trophy (October 10-13) -
Another brilliant
tournament with a noble concept, giving fringe players a unique chance to rub
shoulders with the best in the country in a 50 overs format. But over the last
few years, even this tournament has faced the wrath of congested international
and domestic calendars. Now, Challenger Trophy finishes in four days straight -
there isn't even a gap of a day between the league matches and the final - and
the senior team is seldom available to lift the standard. This year, even the
availability of good domestic cricketers is in doubt because the tournament
starts a day after the Champions League final. Is it not possible to find four
days in the international calendar when the seniors are available?

 

Syed
Mushtaq Ali Trophy (October 20-26):
The league
phase of our national T20 tournament, held only a week before the Ranji Trophy,
throws the preparation for the longer format completely off-track. If you
prepare well for this T20 tournament, you sacrifice the preparation for Ranji Trophy.
And if you prepare thoroughly for the all-important Ranji contests, you launch
the T20 tournament on a low. Also, back-to-back T20 games leave little time to
recuperate.

 

And after all this, the national T20
champions don't even qualify for the Champions League. In any case, conducting
another T20 tournament defies logic when IPL is showcased as the premier T20 competition.
Also, the knockouts of this T20 competition are held in March, five months
after the league phase.

 

Ranji
Trophy (November 3-January 15) -
Firstly, we need
to ask ourselves if we want Ranji Trophy to be the most important tournament. If
so, we need to revamp this format which rewards mediocrity.

 

Scheduling: In the present Ranji structure, there's a four-day match played
every week with only three days break between consecutive matches. Now, if you
finish a match in Jammu and if your next match is in Kochi, you spend a full day
travelling. The next day is spent recuperating, leaving only a day to prepare
for the next match. You can deal with this schedule for a couple of matches, and
to endure this for seven or eight weeks is backbreaking.

 

Because of the schedule, fast-bowlers learn
to operate at 60-70 per cent of their capacity, else it is impossible to last
the season without injury. No wonder one sees a major drop in pace from one
season to the next. It's imperative to increase the gap by at least one more
day, if not two days.

 

Structure: The current division of teams - in Elite and Plate groups - leaves
little cricket to be played by the Plate teams and the Elite ones who fail to
qualify for the knockouts. It is observed that as many as 10 teams play only five
matches a season, and another five teams play only six.

 

Let's not forget the season lasts only five
or six weeks. Is that what you play for an entire year? A niggle or mild
illness could cost a player a full year. The solution is to split 27 teams into
3 groups of nine teams each. This will ensure that every team plays at least 8
matches in a season, increase the gap by a day and, perhaps, make all games a
five-day affair.

 

Points
System:
In the current scenario, the emphasis is on
taking the first-innings lead, which I feel is an incentive to play mediocre
cricket. Gaining a few runs as lead isn't the true reflection of a team's
strength. We must change the points system to ensure there's little to gain in
the first innings but substantial rewards for an outright result. How about
awarding batting and bowling points throughout the game and 10 bonus points for
a win?

 

Better
Wickets, Better Rewards
: It's important to have pitches
that help bowlers too. BCCI's pitch committee has done precious little to improve
pitch standards. It is rather ambitious to expect players, brought up on
surfaces with low bounce and no lateral movement, to suddenly find ways to
succeed in hostile conditions.

 

Pay Disparity:
Another important issue is to bring parity between
the payments for an IPL season and a domestic season. If there isn't a huge
difference in pay packets, players won't sacrifice technique for acquiring T20
skills.

 

Penalize: The onus of improving the quality of cricket in Ranji Trophy is on
the state associations and they're given huge sums by the BCCI to do the same.
Every association's contribution should be assessed by two yardsticks. No. 1 - the
number of quality players produced at various levels, and 2 - the team's
performance in national tournaments. If an association continues to
underperform on both counts, they should be financially penalized. How about
deducting 20 per cent from their annual package?

 

Duleep
Trophy (January 19-February 2)
- what used to be one
of the best tournaments is perhaps now redundant. It starts only three days
after the Ranji finals and is a knockout tournament, which in effect means that
teams can play a maximum of two matches. Are a couple of innings enough to
assess a player? Is it possible for an assorted group of players to play as a
team on such a short notice? If the answer is a no, please scrap this
tournament and give Ranji its deserved space.

 

Vijay
Hazare Trophy (February 10-March 1)
- Even while
Ranji Trophy has moved on to being played between Elite and Plate teams, the
Vijay Hazare Trophy (the one-day competition) is still played among zonal
teams. The league phase lasts a week. It means having to play on consecutive
days many times and at non-descript venues. Once again, quantity compromises quality.

 

The knockout matches are of good quality
but the shoddy league phase devalues the tournament. I recommend the same three-tier
Ranji structure to be followed in here, to ensure enough games for all teams and
adequate rest in between.

 

Deodhar
Trophy (March 6-9):
Another good format,
unfortunately serving little or no purpose, wrapping up in four days. If we
don't have the time to do justice to tournaments of this quality, then let's
not conduct them at all. Half-hearted efforts are no good.

 

India's hammering in England is a
shocker. But it is imperative to not get absorbed by defeat and instead look
for a disaster management plan. The way ahead, in my opinion is to fortify
first-class cricket, the breeding ground of present and future cricketers.

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