A leg-up for domestic cricket

THE signs are good for domestic cricket and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is indeed moving in the right direction.

BY K.SRIKKANTH

"Walking out into the field with the Indian stars can do wonders to the confidence levels of an aspirant. I still remember the heady moment when I stepped into the dressing room of the South Zone team, and G. R. Viswanath (pix, above), my cricketing hero, who was the captain of the side, spoke encouraging words to me." -- Pic. THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY-

THE signs are good for domestic cricket and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is indeed moving in the right direction.

For a start, the players will be paid much better for taking part in first class matches in the country. It is also heartening to note that the Indian stars will be participating in the domestic contests, at least, at the beginning of the season.

It will be just wonderful to watch Sourav Ganguly & Co. in action during the Challenger series and the Irani Trophy. It will surely provide a boost to the domestic tournaments, languishing in the backwaters of Indian cricket.

It is so essential for the promising youngsters to rub shoulders with the Big Guns. For it provides them a chance to grow and develop with them.

Walking out into the field with the Indian stars can do wonders to the confidence levels of an aspirant. I still remember the heady moment when I stepped into the dressing room of the South Zone team, and G. R. Viswanath, my cricketing hero, who was the captain of the side, spoke encouraging words to me.

Viswanath's advice proved priceless, and I can never forget his help in guiding me in the right direction. He was not just a great cricketer, but also a wonderful human being.

In the 70s and the 80s, when the international duels were not as frequent as they are now, the domestic competitions invariably used to feature the top stars. This has several advantages.

For example, the senior players such as Tiger Pataudi, Ajit Wadekar, Bishan Singh Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, who were the Indian captains at various points of time in that era, could have a first hand look at cricketers with potential.

They could see for themselves how good these cricketers were, and apart from gauging their talent, they could also look at their temperament. Since the big players were a part of these matches, the standard was bound to be high.

When a young batsman faced up to a Kapil Dev or a Bedi, he was being exposed to the highest quality of bowling. Runs scored against these great bowlers held a lot of value.

Similarly, when a promising bowler operated against a Sunil Gavaskar or a Gundappa Viswanath, he was pitted against two all-time greats of world cricket. If he came through this test of fire, the chances were that he would perform well in the international arena too.

Domestic cricket was indeed the testing ground for big-time cricket, and contests such as the Irani Trophy, were just a step below international cricket. I distinctly recall, that a lot of pride was at stake during those battles, and the cricketers gave it their all.

In recent years, with international cricket, the ODIs in particular, ruling the roost, domestic cricket has taken a severe battering. The matches have hardly attracted any attention, the audience at the venues have invariably been poor, and several fine performances have gone unnoticed.

Hopefully, this will change with the coming season, with the BCCI displaying keen interest in reviving domestic competitions. And, hopefully, more international cricketers would emerge from these encounters.

In the 70s, we had a lean, unsung batsman from Bombay, hitting awesome spinners such as Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna out of the park with ridiculous ease. That cricketer went on to become the India captain one day.

Dilip Vengsarkar would surely agree with me that had he not received an opportunity to parade his skills against those famous spinners, it might have taken that much longer for him to enter the international scene.

There are several other such instances. W.V. Raman's 90-odd in the Duleep Trophy final in '86, won him so much praise that he made his Test debut the next season against the West Indies, and came close to making a hundred in that game, at Madras.

More recently, we had the instance of Sachin Tendulkar being so impressed with Hemang Badani's semifinal hundred against Mumbai, that he wasted little time in recommending this Tamil Nadu cricketer's name to the men who matter.

A youngster with loads of talent should be given the chance to make the transition quickly, and this is only possible if his performances are watched by senior Indian cricketers. When players like Ganguly, Dravid or Tendulkar play in these matches, they can take back so much with them.

Sadly, thanks to their hectic schedule with the Indian team, they have hardly had time to turn out for their sides in the domestic matches over the last few years. All this could be changing, at least, at the start of the season.

The prospect of a Zaheer Khan or a Harbhajan Singh bowling at Tendulkar is mouth-watering. Or a Ganguly dancing down the track and dismissing the ball over the sightscreen. Or a Dravid showing the broadest of blades to the most testing of deliveries.

Moments like these will stay in the mind and are certain to elevate the level of domestic cricket. For the stars too, this is a great opportunity to gain match practice, and get into the groove for the international season.

Of late, we have seen a disturbing trend, where the younger audience, pampered by an overdose of international cricket, has tended to disregard domestic competitions.

Nothing can be more dangerous for Indian cricket. For, it is from here that we have all emerged.

Getting the top players alone will not be enough. We have to improve the quality of pitches for the matches, so that the dice is not loaded in favour of either the batsmen or the bowlers. It is essential to have sporting tracks to provide everybody a fair chance.

The Indians only have to look at the Australian example to realise the importance of domestic cricket. The Aussies have a strong first class structure at home, and just look where their cricket is now.