Neutral venues: Is it a fair deal?

Is the BCCI or its Technical Committee conveying a message that the Ranji Trophy matches played in the 2015-16 season have been far from competitive? Was Mumbai’s title win for the 41st time a fluke?

The BCCI Technical Committee has recommended holding all the Ranji Trophy matches at neutral venues for the 2016-17 season.   -  Reuters

The BCCI Technical committee’s recommendation to play the Ranji Trophy matches at neutral venues has startled many in the state units but they have decided to remain reticent until they receive the notice and the recommendations are placed before the Working Committee. The Mumbai Cricket Association’s Jt. Hon. Secretary, Dr. P. V. Shetty said the association hadn’t yet received any communication from the BCCI. The matter will have to be discussed with MCA Vice-President Dilip Vengsarkar, he said.

READ: >Ranji games may be played at neutral venues

“I have just read about it in the newspapers and have heard nothing from the BCCI,’’ a Secretary of a member association from South India said. “Is it a wisecrack? Is there any major league in the world of sports where there is no home match? On what basis does the committee feel that the Ranji Trophy will be more competitive when played in neutral venues?’’, a very angry senior Board official said.

READ: >Agarkar not entirely for neutral venues

A recent BCCI press release said: “In a bid to make domestic cricket more competitive and rule out the issues related to preparing specific wickets for home teams, as well as to expose players to play in different conditions, the BCCI Technical Committee (has) recommended neutral venues for the Ranji Trophy matches. This is a step recommended to make domestic Ranji Trophy cricket more competitive.’’

Is the BCCI or its Technical Committee conveying a message that the Ranji Trophy matches played in the 2015-16 season have been far from competitive? Was Mumbai’s title win for the 41st time a fluke? Did Saurashtra, Vidarbha, Punjab, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Assam did not deserve to be in the quarterfinal?

The BCCI president Anurag Thakur and secretary Ajay Shirke have often said that they would be transparent and accountable. It’s now upon them to make a clean breast of what forced the Technical Committee to come up with such a drastic decision.

The release has touched upon “preparing specific wickets for home teams”. Here’s a pertinent question: How many Ranji Trophy matches have the members of the Technical Committee seen in 2015-16, raised pitch-related issues during the season, and given a detailed report? Have they purely gone by a handful of match referee reports that would have perhaps given zilch or 1 in a scale of 0-4 for the quality of the pitch prepared for a particular match?

There were serious allegations of pitch tinkering by the Saurashtra Cricket Association and the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association for a few home matches. A match referee revealed that the BCCI had the right to dock a penalty of two points in a match in the event of the pitch being described as “poor” or “very bad”. The BCCI had even banned the Karnail Singh Stadium, the Railways' home ground in New Delhi, for the 2012-13 season.

The International Cricket Council issued an official warning to the Vidarbha Cricket Association for preparing a “poor pitch” for the third Test match between India and South Africa at the Jamtha Stadium in 2015 based on Match Referee Jeff Crowe’s observation that “the pitch did not allow a fair contest between bat and the ball.’’

The BCCI’s Technical Committee comprises Sourav Ganguly (President, Cricket Association of Bengal), Sidharth Verma (Delhi Districts CA), R. Sudhakar Rao (Karnataka CA), Narendra Dua (Madhya Pradesh), Shrikant Kalyani (Maharashtra CA), Debashish Mohanty (former Test cricketer) and V. K. Ramaswamy (former Test umpire).

Ganguly played international cricket till 2008 and IPL till 2012. He is a distinguished former India captain and is closely associated with Bengal cricket. He has a good connect with the game. It can be assumed that he being the CAB president, cannot go against his own recommendation at the BCCI Working Committee. Similarly, R. Sudhakar Rao representing Karnataka and South Zone has made it difficult for KSCA secretary Brijesh Patel to go against his own man.

The 76-year-old Narendra Dua from Madhya Pradesh played his last first class game 40 years ago; Sidharth Verma (Delhi, Haryana and Railways) has played 26 first class matches, scored 782 runs and has taken three wickets. The fifth zonal member is Srikant Kalyani, added last week because the original choice Riyaz Bhagwan did not qualify to be a member of the Committee. V.K. Ramaswamy, 71, is the umpire representative and Mohanty has been fitted in as a former Test cricketer.

“We play matches in districts and the crowd wants to see the state’s big players. We created the infrastructure in the state to spread the game and schedule Ranji Trophy matches in small centres,’’ a Secretary said.

When Maharashtra played Tamil Nadu in Nashik some years ago, a big crowd saw Murali Vijay and Abhinav Mukund in action. It was the same when Karnataka and Mumbai met for the Ranji Trophy final in Mysore. But there were hardly any spectators when Tamil Nadu played Karnataka at the Wankhede two years ago and the stands remained empty when Mumbai played Saurashtra in Pune this year. Enough said.