Giving cricketers a hearing

Like the BCCI has indicated, it would be wonderful if the Duleep Trophy is scheduled in such a manner that all the stars are able to take part. The competition then would regain its glory.

K. SRIKKANTH

Sairaj Bahutule has excelled for Mumbai, but has not received the best of treatment from the national selectors. — Pic. RAJEEV BHATT-

THE Board of Control for Cricket in India's (BCCI) idea of talking to the captains of the various Ranji Trophy sides, after inviting them to Mumbai was a splendid one. This is what one would expect from the BCCI.

Domestic cricket is the backbone of the game in the country. This is where the stars are born. It is here that the story of every cricketer, from the greatest, to the most mediocre of talents, starts.

Neglecting domestic cricket would be a huge mistake and the BCCI has done well in giving it the appropriate place. Changes were made in the format last year; we had a two-tier system in Ranji Trophy, and the zonal system was done away with in both Ranji and Duleep competitions.

It was so important for the BCCI to have a frank and healthy discussion with the captains after an eventful season, where such sweeping changes were made to the system. Otherwise, the whole exercise would have been one of futility.

The captains endorsed the new-look Ranji Trophy, and rejected outright the idea of throwing the zonal format in the Duleep Trophy out of the window. It is not difficult to see why.

Having two competitions in the Ranji Trophy — the Elite and the Plate tournaments — may have two sides to it, and some promising, young cricketers might suffer in the Plate section. However, there are plenty of positives too.

For a start, the competition in the Elite section, fielding the strongest sides in the tournament, had a lot more fizz to it. The cricketers, in the league stage itself, received an opportunity to pit their skills against other top-notch players from the different zones, while there was also an increase in the number of matches they took part in.

Take for instance the clash between Delhi and Railways or Tamil Nadu and Punjab during the league phase. Such matches can only help young cricketers develop more quickly, since the competition is bound to be intense.

And for those in the Plate section there is always the additional motivation of qualifying for the Elite category. Even here, the battles can be stiff.

This year, the Plate final saw heavyweight Karnataka and Kerala, a competent side, fighting it out. Karnataka won the contest with ease. However, both the sides qualified for the Elite section.

Next year, it will be the turn of two other sides to move up, and this only adds an extra dimension to the competition. In other words, things will never remain static in this format.

Let's look at a side like Maharashtra, that has invariably been a force to reckon with in the domestic circuit. It is still stuck in the Plate division, and I am sure the side will be straining every sinew to move up next season.

After all, everybody aspires to compete with the best. None of the teams would be wanting to be left behind. If the competitions in the domestic circuit are harder, then our players will be better prepared for the international battles.

Similarly, the sides in the Elite division can hardly afford to relax. If they do, they could end up being relegated and the climb back might be hard.

In this context, it is extremely creditable that Andhra, an emerging force, has managed to retain its place in the Elite section. We have witnessed a steady development in Andhra's cricket over the years, and now, no side can afford to treat it lightly.

Of course, all credit to Mumbai for winning the tournament, though some of the cricketers who excelled for the state, like Sairaj Bahutule and Ramesh Powar, have hardly received the best of treatment at the hands of the selectors.

It was an opportunity missed for Tamil Nadu and it had only itself to blame for letting a position of great advantage slip. Tamil Nadu has never been lacking in talent, but can the same be said about the mental make-up of some of its cricketers?

It is a good sign that the Ranji Trophy this season threw up two exciting pace prospects in Avishkar Salvi and Laxmipathy Balaji. If groomed properly, both have it in them to serve India for a long time. The basic ingredients are there in both these youngsters.

Coming to the Duleep Trophy, it was hardly surprising that all the captains, in one voice, rejected the idea of a zoneless competition. I too had never quite been too happy with this rather bizarre idea.

It's like saying let's have Test cricket without the Test playing nations! Duleep Trophy, traditionally, has been associated with zonal pride and it should stay that way.

I can tell you from experience that representing the zone for the first time is such a huge moment in every cricketer's career. It is then that he realises that he has a realistic chance of playing for the country.

I can never forget the moment when I was first picked for the South Zone side. It was also the turning point of my career.

Those were the days, when it was extremely difficult to break into the Duleep side. The competitions used to be scheduled in such a manner that most of the Test stars would be taking part. In any case, the international season used to be less hectic then. This season, it didn't make much sense to see team `A' meet team `B', instead of South taking on North or West duelling it out with East. The Duleep Trophy appeared hollow, abstract and meaningless. The competition was getting diluted. It is now clear that the players felt the same way.

The BCCI has also done well in listening to the cricketers' voice and revert to the old, time-tested formula. There was nothing wrong with the Duleep Trophy as such. It was only that with the international stars unable to take part, it had lost much of its gloss.

Like the BCCI has indicated, it would be wonderful if the Duleep Trophy is scheduled in such a manner that all the stars are able to take part. The competition then would regain its glory.