Genuine issues have not been addressed

Paceman Ishant Sharma of Delhi holds a lot of promise.-R.V. MOORTHY

The announcement of Rs. 30,000 per day allowance for players has not materialised. They continue to get Rs. 16,000 for a four-day game. No change, no hike.

As Ranji matches are played in the current season new talent surfaces and their success sparks fresh hope for the future. Delhi has had ordinary results — no wins in three games — but there are indications that youngsters with potential will make it to the next level.

Already, there is considerable expectation from the new fast bowler Ishant Sharma who has bowled impressively on tracks where the ball reaches 'keeper Vijay Dahiya on the second bounce. Ishant, tall and loose limbed, runs in nicely to hit the deck from a high arm action. There is hint of swing when he pitches the new ball up, and occasional seam movement once the shine is gone. He is eager, energetic and willing to bend his back — qualities that convince senior pro Akash Chopra about Ishant's promise.

Delhi's number 4, Mayank Tehlan, has also arrived in senior company by scoring a double hundred, his second big knock in Ranji after 176 on debut against Maharashtra last year. Virat Kohli is still to make a similar leap but Shikhar Dhawan, a composed opener who was yesterday's major hope, is also among runs.

But some of Delhi's seniors are struggling, notably previous captain Amit Bhandari who, returning from injury, can't make the XI and Rahul Sanghvi who can't keep his place. Ashish Nehra has no such problems, having overcome fitness issues he is once again Delhi's main strike bowler. After his successful return (demonstrated by long spells and plenty of wickets) Nehra declared dramatically that his talent was never in doubt, and then proceeded to blast officials for preparing pitches that are graveyards for fast bowlers.

Most pitches have nothing for spinners either. When Delhi played UP, Piyush Chawla hardly made an impression. Observers feel he must raise his game several notches before challenging others for a place in the Indian team. Rajinder Singh Hans and Gopal Sharma — former UP spinners — bemoaned the absence of genuine spin talent on the domestic circuit. There is little quality, they said. Most kids are bowling medium pace and spinners are happy pushing the ball to bowl tight. There is no flight, no spin, no turn — just up and down stuff.

UP, last year's Ranji winner, are more down than up till now. There is a steady supply of talent from the under-19 team (R. P. Singh, Shalabh Srivastava, Ravikant and Shivkant Shukla, Tanmay Srivastava ) but making the next level is far from easy for these youngsters. The hostels in Allahabad and Gomti Nagar, Lucknow, churn out new players but most disappear after a few bright performances and one wonders if tournaments based on age certificates are to blame for this.

In other places, some established stars are fading. Rajasthan invested big time in Vikram Solanki and Kabir Ali but midway through the season they have done nothing, which a youngster from Jodhpur or Bikaner would not have achieved. Jadeja (senior pro, unofficial coach, chief strategist) has not repeated his last season's golden run but Mohammad Aslam, the low profile veteran left-arm spinner, remains the main wicket taker. Gagan Khoda, a quality opener, is back at centre stage with two hundreds.

The fortunes of the Railways, in Plate, are somewhat similar, their performance has been an annoying mix of good and ordinary. Sanjay Bangar is still out of sorts, searching desperately for form at the top of the order, but T. P. Singh, an underrated but efficient all-round cricketer, consistently produces valuable contributions, as does J. P. Yadav. Murali Kartik, after a shoulder surgery earlier this year, played some county matches and is now back to top form.

The same can't be said of other spinners, one Delhi off-spinner was so ordinary he sent down two high full tosses, declared wide because they sailed over the batsman's head. Most pitches are dead and some, like Mohali, loaded in favour of fast bowlers. Batsmen here are severely tested, the extra bounce exposing those who instinctively stretch out their front foot. Mumbai captain Amol Muzumdar, a stylish batsman who missed out, struck a fine, battling hundred at Mohali even as Punjab continued to discover new fast bowlers. Luv Ablish, Ishan Malhotra and Amarpreet Singh have come in; as a result off spinner Rajesh Sharma bowled a mere 41 overs in three games.

With 27 teams competing in two grades of Ranji the competition is so lopsided it is difficult to evaluate performances and distinguish good players from the ordinary. Also, given the general neglect, it will require much time and effort before this first-class structure becomes a finishing school that prepares players for international cricket.

Sadly, while there is scant evidence of any serious effort to mend things, there are enough signs to suggest nobody is really concerned. In a Elite game in Delhi, the umpires called off play — for bad light — around noon (!) and then disappeared from the ground. On another occasion the square leg umpire was merrily chatting on his cellphone, during play. The striker, disturbed by the chatter, walked up to him and politely requested that he speak a bit softly!

Whenever India loses on an overseas tour Ranji is blamed but genuine issues have not been addressed — wickets must change (or be replaced by drop-in tracks as suggested by the SMG) and umpiring standards have to improve.

Another question: Whatever happened to the much-promised rise in Ranji payments? The announcement of Rs. 30,000 per day allowance for players has not materialised. They continue to get Rs. 16000 for a four-day game. No change, no hike.