Saba Karim: May be we can have DRS in more number of matches

BCCI's General Manager, Cricket Operations, Saba Karim talks about the introduction of limited DRS, analysis of the domestic season, among others.

BCCI General Manager, Cricket Operations, Saba Karim hinted that there might be changes to the domestic cricket schedule next season.   -  vijay soneji

As yet another domestic season reaches its fag end, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)’s General Manager, Cricket Operations, Saba Karim is happy with the way things have panned out.

There were initial challenges for sure, as incessant rain saw some of the matches of the Vijay Hazare Trophy being rescheduled, but then, the Board managed to pull things off. And it also introduced the limited Decision Review System (DRS) for the semifinal and final of the Ranji Trophy - a first in domestic cricket. Karim calls it a ‘welcome move’.

In a chat with Sportstar at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium, the former Indian wicket-keeper talks about the season and what changes to expect in the coming seasons…

Before every season, there are apprehensions on how it will pan out. But at the fag end of yet another long domestic season, how would you analyse it?

There are no apprehensions at the beginning of the season. There are just mere challenges for us. So, to see it concretise is extremely rewarding. And that’s what I've maintained, even at the beginning of the season or after the completion of the last season, that we look forward to this mammoth season. And when we are able to complete it without too many major hitches, then it is extremely satisfying for not only me but also for the organisation and for my entire team.

But is there anything in particular that you have learned from this season - something that you would perhaps want to work on ahead of next year?

Our biggest challenge this season was inclement weather. As you would have noticed that we started our season in August with the Duleep Trophy, then we had the Vijay Hazare Trophy, Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. This year, the biggest change was that we decided to have all our white ball tournaments at one go and then have red ball cricket. That’s what we did.

It was also to ideally suit the franchises to pick the players during the IPL auction. And, the auction was always very fluid, at times it could happen in February, at times it could happen in December. So I wanted to get away from all that and maintain a period for Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy so that whether the auction happens in December or in February, it should not affect the tournament. And I wanted to give that importance to Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy because from the franchise's side, they look forward to this tournament and it is from there that they the pick most of the domestic cricketers. So that we have been able to accomplish.

As I mentioned earlier, our biggest challenge was inclement weather. So we had to really think on our feet because Vijay Hazare Trophy was affected in a big way. So, there were two groups which affected by rains. Because we were able to think ahead, we could reschedule a lot of matches, and we got immense support from all the associations. So, we were able to give a uniform number of games to all those groups that are affected by rain. That I felt was a great achievement for my team to squeeze in and whatever window we have and offer them as many matches as possible. That was wonderful to see.

Ever since taking charge, you have spoken about the importance of having a set domestic calender. So, will you stick to the same format - in terms of scheduling the tournaments - next season as well, or will there be any tweaks?

There is a possibility. We will have a discussion on this once the season is over. We do get feedback from the players. That's one reason why I travel and meet everybody. And most of the players have been part of the domestic set-up for the past 10-15 years. So, it's good to pick their brains. I also spend some time chatting with the commentators because they cover a lot of matches, they give me a lot of feedback. So, I think it is a very healthy trend. There may be some tweaking, we may bring in some more quality. There may be some change in the format. But for me to comment at this stage, is not so easy.

But we do plan to have a brainstorming session where we will discuss all this with our various stakeholders and come up with the best possible solution. I've always maintained that BCCI is the torchbearer in terms of bringing quality cricket to the fore. Right from U-16s up to the Ranji Trophy, not only for men but even for women now, so we need to keep thinking all the time so we will be able to offer better quality, better infrastructure facilities to all our cricketers.

Bengal's Abhishek Raman became the first batsman in Ranji Trophy to be given out by DRS.   -  rajeev bhatt

 

This time, the major highlight of the Ranji Trophy semifinals has been the introduction of limited Decision Review System. But then, can it really be effective without the availability of Snicko metre, HawkEye and other tools? Do we see any changes, next season?

See, the idea came to our mind after the completion of last season’s Ranji Trophy. The matches were of high quality. A lot of international cricketers participated in the knockout stage. I felt that we should be offering an even playing field to all the teams, irrespective of the state or their status. And I felt that by doing so, we will elevate the quality and the state of the Ranji Trophy.

Once we embarked on that journey, I felt that we do have a technology wherein we cover all the matches. If we have that then why can we bring in some kind of, some level of DRS also, which is helpful not only to the players but also for a match official - I am talking about umpires and referees. Most of our international panel matching umpires, they go and do international matches at home and also away. They do end up using the DRS, so this will be a great platform for them to understand this entire experience.

And similar thing goes for the players also. That was my whole intention. I felt that if we have the technology, we should be using it. There should be optimum utilisation of the technology. That is why this season got limited. We possibly cannot introduce the Hawkeye and the Snicko metre because the costs would go up. And I think at this stage, it is up to the office-bearers to decide. But we have set forth something, which I feel, will be conducive for domestic cricket.

Do you plan to use DRS for more matches in the domestic circuit?

Maybe, we can increase the number of matches that will have DRS. You know, a large the number of games - right from round one of the Ranji Trophy - is covered live. At least, one game comes up on live television and others come on digital platforms. At least, the matches that are televised, there we can bring in DRS. This is not only for Ranji Trophy, but other tournaments also. Let’s see.

Multiple Ranji Trophy matches were washed out due to extreme weather conditions, a challenge which the BCCI is focusing on.   -  rajeev bhatt

 

A lot of venues have come in but even then, there are infrastructural problems. What’s the way forward?

If you look around all the state associations, most of the state bodies have done some great work in terms of improving the ground, improving the infrastructure, also making it very broadcast friendly. There are some state associations, who due to paucity of funds, are not being able to invest so much. But hopefully, all that will change now with the new setup that has come in.

Jammu and Kashmir for instance, they played all their Ranji Trophy home matches in Jammu because of issues in Srinagar. The ground that hosted the quarterfinal was not a broadcast friendly venue. So, that is why there was an issue. But on a constant basis, we do issue directives to all the state associations that at least one venue should be broadcast friendly.

So that, whenever it is required, those matches can be televised. Hopefully, by next season I do expect some changes. But overall, I'm extremely happy with the kind of structure we have seen. That's why I travel, I watch a lot of matches, just to see kind of work the state associations have done. It’s extremely heartening to note that.

 

Many believe that India’s fast bowling benefited from the BCCI’s policy of maintaining at least 3mm of grass cover on the pitch for every Ranji Trophy match. Can we expect any such rules in the coming seasons?

It has benefited our local cricket to a large extent. And you notice that at the senior level now. Most of the players undergo this experience of playing on sporting tracks. BCCI directive is very clear: we want to prepare sporting tracks, which offer results in the end. But a lot of responsibility also lies on the states, on the Ranji Trophy sides, the way they prepare for the game and the way they plan it.

So what is your intention? If you want to win, then you can always make a docile surface a very challenging one. So I think the intentions have improved from all the state teams. They actually go out and play to win. And I don't see any dull draws. In fact, we have hosted so many games, and except for three or four matches, the rest have all been executed very well and we have seen results and not due to sub-standard wickets but on good tracks. That's a welcome sign.

The BCCI, on its own, has regular workshops with the curators, and they are the experts. We have an education pathway for the curators, and they undergo all that. And they're extremely accomplished now. We have a set of neutral curators who travel wherever these matches are being held. That's why we will now insist on having home and away basis so that there is some kind of interest from the local public as well. And so far, it's been extremely good. It is a constant work that goes on with the curators.

This time, some of the top coaches of Ranji Trophy have suggested that there should be a tier system for the elite and Plate teams so that the balance is maintained. What’s BCCI thinking about it?

We will work on it. We welcome the feedback we receive from the coaches and the captains, and that’s one reason why we always have the captains and coaches conclave.

The feedback we receive from that kind of a workshop or a seminar helps us improve on our domestic cricket, whether it is in terms of format, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of wickets or umpiring. We discuss all these aspects of domestic cricket, and whatever is feasible, whatever is possible, amid the constraints we have, we would love to implement them.

From last season, efforts were taken to develop the game in the northeast. Now, new grounds are coming in and more players are also taking up the sport, but there are still major concerns about infrastructure…

Massive work is happening in those states. Out of six northeast states, four state associations will have their own ground before the next season begins. So, that is extremely good for all the players. In fact, we will have a ground and Rangpo (in Sikkim). We have another one coming up in Shillong, Manipur. Nagaland has got one ground, Meghalaya will have two grounds.

So, extensive work has taken place already. So, hopefully, I think before the season begins, we will have much better infrastructure facilities. We are also coming up with indoor cricket centres. So, maybe we'll have one in Meghalaya, one in Nagaland. Mizoram is also working towards that. Now, because the new setup has come in, I'm sure there will be financial help for these northeast associations also.

Domicile players and age fudging are the two issues that bothered the BCCI last season. This time, how did you manage to combat those problems?

I may sound immodest to say this, but among all the sports federations in India, BCCI is a torchbearer in eradicating this entire menace of age fraud and we have succeeded to a large extent. So, for instance, for the past two years, we have banned about 270 odd players for two years. That’s a very stringent rule which we have brought in.

Plus, the fact that our U-19 players are allowed to play only one World Cup, that also has minimised the effect of age fraud. So, there are certain discussions which are taking place and hopefully by next season, we will have far more stringent regulations. It’s not easy to eradicate it hundred per cent, but I'm sure will succeed to a large extent in bringing down the age fraud issues.

This time, the Indian cricket team has finally made its debut in day-night Tests. Keeping that in mind, do we see more pink-ball matches in the domestic circuit too, from next season?

Even for this, we will need to have a large scale discussion with office bearers and then see how we can take it forward. That is a decision to be taken by the office-bearers. If you want to play Test cricket on a regular basis with pink balls, then it becomes imperative to offer some kind of an opportunity to our domestic cricketers also, who in some time, will eventually play for the nation. So we need to sit together and work out a system.

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