Wicketkeeper-batsman Shreevats Goswami struck a fluent 134-ball 78 in Bengal's quarterfinal win over Odisha in Cuttack earlier this week. The 30-year-old, who began playing at the age of 11, had represented Bengal and the country at the U-19 level. Additionally, he had played a crucial role as an opener during India’s Under-19 World Cup victory in Malaysia in 2008. The left-hander has also plied his trade with the Kolkata Knight Riders, Rajasthan Royals, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Goswami spoke to Sportstar about Bengal cricket, addressing mental health in the domestic circuit, and how contracts for first-class cricketers can aid them.
Despite a rich legacy, Bengal has struggled to live up to expectations in Ranji Trophy, having last won the title in 1989-90. What's ailing Bengal cricket?
Every season we try and do our best. The Ranji Trophy is a very difficult format. Earlier it was contested across two groups — Elite and Plate — for close to 10 seasons. But now the teams are divided into four groups, and extra points are awarded to teams for outright wins. Teams are also promoted and relegated according to their performances. You are not just competing within your group, but are going head to head with teams from other pools as well. The wickets are much more result-oriented, too. So, it's not easy. I don’t think there’s anything ailing Bengal cricket.
Maybe once I hang up my boots, I’ll look back and be able to give a third-person perspective. At the moment, maybe it’s the lack of domestic trophies that are being mistaken for problems within the setup. As a squad, we are moving in the right direction.
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How has first-class cricket in India changed since your debut in 2008?
The Indian board has changed its position with regards to the significance it confers on its first-class cricket. There are more and more matches being shown on television, which wasn’t the case earlier. The cricketers of this generation have matured, with the exposure to offer fast-tracking the evolution of youngsters in terms of acquiring experience of performing under different conditions. The selection committee has taken into account performances of players in the Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy and other tournaments while naming India-A and the senior men’s teams.
Does the IPL still remain a favourite route to gain attention quicker than the other formats?
The IPL has had a big role to play in elevating the level of cricket. That said, I wouldn’t say it’s been the only yardstick of selection for the senior side. Maybe earlier, when it was first played in 2008, it was because the format was new, there was excitement around it with fresh faces coming through the ranks. There have been instances when a player hasn’t played quite a lot of first-class cricket but has earned a national call-up based on his IPL exploits.
But nowadays, even before a team’s announced, you know that so and so player is on the selectors’ radar because he is scoring runs or picking wickets in the domestic tournaments; there’s more emphasis on young talents. The likes of Shubman Gill and Prithvi Shaw are cases in point.
However, when we were playing under-19 cricket, you didn’t see too many 19-20-year-olds making the cut. When we used to score hundreds, we were told to spend more time in the first-class circuit. That mentality isn’t there anymore, which is a welcome change.
The issue of mental health is in the spotlight at the moment. Is it more prevalent at the domestic level?
Mental health is a very serious subject. We, as cricketers, sacrifice a lot. We don’t have anything else to do, right? Every young cricketer in the country aspires to play for India, but there is an innumerable number of players who have probably given 15 years to the sport but are nowhere near to wearing the India jersey. And they don’t earn enough either. So it’s like, “ Maine India ke liye nahi khela aur maine paise bhi nahi banaye .” Stress that we suffer for a prolonged period is exhausting and can lead to poor mental health. Some former players who have retired or have given up playing state and international cricket can suddenly find themselves dealing with this void that can be taxing mentally. Things have changed since the advent of the IPL. It provides financial security, which is an important factor.
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BCCI president Sourav Ganguly has proposed a contract system for first-class cricketers. A prudent suggestion?
Absolutely. Dada ’s (Sourav Ganguly) suggestion on a contract system for first-class cricketers is pivotal to the well-being of domestic players. Representing your state is a big thing. The method has worked well in England and Australia, for instance. It will bring about a certain sense of job security and help improve individual and team performances. Unless you get selected to play for India and retain your place for at least a couple of seasons, you are taking a huge risk with your career. I got to play in the IPL, but if I was only playing domestic cricket for Bengal, I would’ve been in a bad shape.