Missing the exciting ingredients

Published : Nov 17, 2001 00:00 IST

AN observer from England was aghast at the state of our Ranji championship, which in itself means little because we are quite shocked ourselves by Ranji. Still, the reason for the overseas visitor's surprise was interesting - he could not believe that it was possible to walk into a cricket stadium, sit just around anywhere and watch. It is like a club game back home, he exclaimed. The cricket was slow, very easy and totally relaxed.

Which, if assessed dispassionately, is a fairly accurate description of Ranji. When Delhi played Services at Palam the atmosphere was pretty laidback, from a distance one could be forgiven for thinking this was a grade 3 club game between Darling Club and Vijay XI. Spectators were absent, the pace of play was sleepy, cricket unfolded in slow motion so to say. The problem, perhaps, is we have been thoroughly spoilt by TV, our expectation is of a glitzy, slickly presented contest with much hype (often artificial) generated by commentators. Matches are projected as battles with fancy names such as Badla, Jalwa or Halwa.

Of course, these exciting ingredients are missing from Ranji. Matches have less intensity, less hype, less commercial presence. No ads on sightscreens, no perimeter advertising, no logos on chests of players, no gates, no nothing. As our friend from England found out to his utter surprise, one can actually stand next to the rope and carry on a conversation with the fielder at fine leg. No problem, but be prepared for a brief interruption if the ball is flicked off the legs by the batsmen.

While this atmosphere is far removed from the bustle of big cricket it has a charm of its own. On the third morning of the game as Services' batsmen struggled to stay in the game against quality spin, the battle was gripping. Delhi had almost 500 on the board thanks to a punishing 140 from their new captain Mithun Minhas and a more steady century by Akash Chopra. In reply, Services were up against Rahul Sanghvi and Sarandeep Singh, Delhi's import from Punjab. Sanghvi tossed the ball up inviting the miscued drive for which he had a short cover and a man at straightish midwicket. Sarandeep bowled a tight line forcing batsmen to stretch on the forward stroke to kill the spin.

Stout defence and the slow nature of the pitch ensured survival, and the inability of bowlers to run through the opposition clearly disappointed coach Bishan Bedi. His grouse? Bowlers are spoilt by one-day cricket, they lack discipline to work on the batsman's mistakes, appear in a hurry to get wickets which they feel can only come from bowling flat.

Between instructions to the 12th man (who carried Bisleri and bananas to team-mates) at the drinks break, Bishan wondered why wickets could not be uncovered for first class cricket. What will happen? he asked. On some odd occasion the batsmen will be caught on a sticky wicket but that isn't such a bad thing - at least they will learn to cope and improve their technique. At present they only play on pitches that don't have bounce, that don't seam and don't turn. Let the bowlers have some advantage in this batsman-friendly game.

At another Ranji game in Delhi the bowlers were performing a lot better though the track was not much different. When Rajasthan played Railways, opener Gagan Khoda was in control having comfortably seen off the new ball. Later, against the left arm spin of Kartik, he came down the track to drive fluently to the straight field. But Kartik teased him, his subtle variations of flight not affording the batsman easy opportunities to score. The cat/mouse game continued for a while, ultimately Khoda's patience snapped and an ambitious drive ended up as a catch at long off.

Gagan is an accomplished player, he scored a terrific 300 in Duleep Trophy last year against South on a green top and a 160 earlier this season off Vidharbha. But Kartik, fully recovered from a back injury that troubled him almost a year, is bowling better than at any stage of his career. With two successive five-wicket hauls in Ranji this year he is feeling upbeat about his career once again. The ball is coming nicely out of the hand, he explained. The rhythm is back, the ball is landing in the right place.

Kartik's resurgence makes the Railways attack pretty formidable because operating from the other end is Parida, a particularly mean off-spinner who can turn the ball even on glass. He is at the batsmen all the time, keeps the ball close to off stump, does not allow batsmen any free hits to midwicket.

After making the Ranji final last year, the Railways are a transformed side, high on self-belief and confidence. Much of this stems from a strong batting line-up spearheaded by Yere Goud who is a bit of Steve Waugh, someone who unfailingly delivers when the chips are down. One prime example of this was against U.P. when he made a massive 197 out of a team score of 300 odd - and the next highest score was 28! Yere Goud is a steady, serious player with an organised technique and a terrific temperament. He is solid, efficient not spectacular, a hard working, determined cricketer who lets his bat do the talking.

His main ally in the Railways side is opener Amit Pagnis, a dasher who believes in pure aggression. Pagnis scored hundreds in both innings against Rajasthan, treating the bowlers with disdain, he is typical of the new breed of batsmen who think nothing of lifting the new ball over cover in the third over of the innings. Pagnis' partner is J. P. Yadav who plays much the same way but a little lower down is Sanjay Bangar who bats normally, and brings sanity to proceedings after the mayhem from the openers.

India's domestic cricket is criticised because it has several glaring drawbacks. Still, this should not blind us to its strengths, one of which is an extensive tournament structure which provides an excellent platform for talented players to perform. Yes, the matches are uncompetitive, wickets could be better as could the umpiring and facilities and so many other things.

But these hiccups apart, important changes are taking place and many improvements are driven by the players themselves. More than before, the average Ranji player is working hard, he is into serious training, he spends time in the gym, lifts weights and approaches his cricket with considerable dedication and commitment. If only some vital inputs - which we all know about - were in place, things could be vastly different.

More stories from this issue

Sign in to unlock all user benefits
  • Get notified on top games and events
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign up / manage to our newsletters with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early bird access to discounts & offers to our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment