Ranji Trophy: Teams frustrated with neutral venues

With one-third of the league stage of Ranji Trophy now over, the experiment of neutral venues seems to be failing on various counts. Almost half of the 39 league matches played so far have failed to produce a result.

Maharashtra's Swapnil Gugale and Ankit Bawne stitched an unbeaten partnership of 594 runs in a match that featured 1283 runs and 12 wickets in four days.   -  PTI

“Personally, I like to travel a lot, so I am enjoying it.”

Ankeet Bawne, the Maharashtra batsman, dead-batted a query about the value of neutral venues after his team’s >run-feast against Delhi last week on a Wankhede Stadium wicket in Mumbai that was as hard as the Queen’s Necklace right behind it.

Everyone concerned knows that the decision to play Ranji Trophy at neutral venues had nothing to do with increasing frequent flier points of 400-odd cricketers involved in the tournament. The key reason cited for the change – recommended by Sourav Ganguly’s technical committee and adopted by the last push from BCCI chief Anurag Thakur – was the need for “sporting” pitches, instead of some teams using the turf to its advantage.

However, with one-third of the league stage now over, the experiment seems to be failing on various counts. There are logistical and administrative nightmares experienced by various teams, and the cricket being produced is not really impressive.

Neutral advantage:



Season

Matches

Draws/N-R

Results

Results %

2015-16

115

52

63

54.78

2016-17

39

19

20

51.28



Almost half of the 39 league matches played so far have failed to produce a result. At least one game in each of the round saw the first innings stretched into the last session of the fourth day, with the match aggregate exceeding 1,000 runs. One such example was the strip for the maiden first-class outing at the Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh International Cricket Stadium, where bowlers were converted into non-entities on a surface that was compared with “concrete” by MP coach Harvinder Singh Sodhi.

“You need more result oriented pitches. On this pitch, (even) on the last day, this pitch wasn’t turning. It didn’t keep low, there was no variable bounce. In fact, the bounce was still the same as what it was on the first day. It was more like concrete,” said Sodhi, a former pacer. “Whether you play at home or away, you need better pitches, which have more bounce in it. The bounce will help the bowlers and the batsmen to play strokes.”

Aditya Tare, the Mumbai captain, minced no words in relating the nature of pitches to the lack of interest of those involved in preparing it. Tare and Co. have played on dead tracks for two weeks in succession.

“Now people will start to believe why a few teams opposed it (playing in neutral venues). And I’ll assure you a few strong teams opposed it. This problem had to arise, but this isn’t in my control anymore,” Tare said.

“We played three games on dead, flat wickets. As a captain, I hate that. We want to play on a result-oriented pitch. That’s why we expect, wherever we go. I’m happy when I get a result-oriented pitch. On these pitches, the games becomes dead, you have no chance of a comeback. When you have four innings, you have a chance of a comeback. On these sort of wickets, you have one bad session, and then you’re out of the game; and chasing it all the way, and don’t have a chance to comeback.”

Assam coach Sunil Joshi had interestingly tweeted about the wicket in Visakhapatnam for his team’s second-round match not fit enough for a first-class game.

Where’s the crowd?

The Ranji Trophy has also lost the charm of teams enjoying home support. After turning up for Mumbai in front of empty stands in Chennai and Hyderabad for the Ranji semifinals and final in 2008-09, Sachin Tendulkar had criticised the then policy of playing knockouts at neutral venues. However, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) did not seem to have factored in the home support factor while deciding the venue.

As a result, Mumbai and MP match saw virtually no crowd presence despite the State of Chhattisgarh hosting its maiden first-class match. “We saw so many milestones over the last four days, but except for those in the dressing room, there was not a single clap from the empty stands. It’s such a lovely stadium but nobody came to watch the match,” Tare said.

“At Wankhede, every run is cheered from the loyal fans of Mumbai cricket and a few aspiring young cricketers. Had Chhattisgarh been playing [in Chhattisgarh] as the home team, I am sure half the stadium would have filled, especially over the weekend.”

Sodhi agreed with the Mumbai captain. “As a player, it’s more about getting used to neutral venues, adapting to new conditions. But yes, you do miss the local supporters on the ground. Even if you’re playing away, there are some people who come and wagch the game, cheer the home team, and there’s some kind of atmosphere created. Unfortunately, that’s lacking,” Sodhi said.

Is anybody listening?

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