Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy: BCCI, host associations deserve pat on the back

The BCCI operations team and administrative set-up of all the seven host associations for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy ensured a safe and sound tournament for players, support staff, match officials and everyone else involved.

Proud moment: The victorious Tamil Nadu team.   -  Picture Courtesy: BCCI / Domestic

Ranji Trophy — its absence may be the talk of the town for Indian domestic cricket but let’s not forget, the last few weeks have seen the return of competitive top-flight cricket in India following the lockdown.

The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy — always considered a mini-selection trial ahead of the Indian Premier League auction ever year — took centrestage for the first time as the inter-State T20 tournament that started in six cities on January 10 became the first BCCI-organised tournament ever since the conclusion of the last year’s Ranji Trophy on March 17, 2020.

For the record, Tamil Nadu defeated Baroda by seven wickets to clinch its second Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 at the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad.

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No doubt the duration of biosecure hubs — a COVID-19-induced must for sporting action globally — that were created in seven cities (six for the league stage and Ahmedabad for the knockouts) was far lesser than that for the IPL 2020 in United Arab Emirates, but the magnitude of these hubs was far greater considering the volume of participants.

The BCCI operations team and administrative set-up of all the seven host associations deserve a pat on the back for ensuring a safe and sound tournament for players, support staff, match officials and everyone else involved.

“The sanctity of the bubble was more or less the same at the Mushtaq Ali Trophy that we had for the IPL,” says Kedar Jadhav, the Maharashtra veteran who was a part of the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL. “The SOP (standard operating procedure) was almost the same and every effort was made to ensure all the players and officials feel safe while being a part of the bubble.”

Safety measures: “The sanctity of the bubble was more or less the same at the Mushtaq Ali Trophy that we had for the IPL. The SOP (standard operating procedure) was almost the same and every effort was made to ensure all the players and officials feel safe while being a part of the bubble,” says Kedar Jadhav, the Maharashtra veteran who was a part of the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL.   -  AP

 

While the dos and don’ts remained virtually the same for the IPL and the SMAT20, the biggest difference between the modus operandi on players’ movements was the absence of GPS trackers for every individual in the bubble. In the IPL, every player/ team official/ match official had to carry the tracker so that their movements were guarded. With the limited budget and personnel involved being at least three-times more than IPL, the trackers were not used in domestic cricket.

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But the BCCI and the State association officials realised that stakeholders had become wiser with the IPL experience and basic check through CCTV cameras at the hotel and stadia was enough to ensure there was no breach of the biosecure environment.

But the staging State associations had to deal with different challenges. Normally, besides the limited staff of a State association, scores of voting members are involved in conduct of BCCI matches as volunteers. But with restricted personnel involved and no one in the stands, the staging associations faced newer challenges.

“Our staff was diligently involved in multi-tasking — like team liaisoning officers were handling baggages or food packets, etc. And even the team managements lent a helping hand wherever required.

Nobody cribbed citing excuses like ‘this is not suitable for our stature’,” says Rohit Pandit, chief administrative officer of Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association, which was one of the seven venues for the tournament.

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Pandit admits that the presence of a BCCI-designated operations executive and a medical team of Apollo Hospitals at every venue was of immense help to ensure smooth and near-identical operations at all the venues. Besides, he pointed out two unique challenges that his team faced during the tournament.

“Packed food and returning the ball from the stands,” he says. “At every BCCI match, everyone is used to kitchens being set up during games but it wasn’t the case this time around. So players and match officials had to be served packed foods. It was some task to ensure safe food packets were distributed keeping in mind the vegetarian and non-vegetarian choice of various individuals. The bird flu scare made it even more challenging.”

As for the balls that landed in the stands of the Holkar Stadium — or out of the ground at the open Emerald International School Ground — Pandit says sanitising the ball was extremely challenging. “Since there were no spectators allowed, the atmosphere was anyway dull and only those involved in the operations team had to fetch the ball,” Pandit says.

“But even then, an instinctive reaction of anyone at a cricket ground is to pick up the ball and throw it back as close to the bowler as possible. Over here, we had to ensure only those with handgloves could touch the ball and it had to be thrown outside the boundary where the reserve umpire would sanitise it. It took a while for the officials and even players to get used to it.”

Tamil Nadu lifts second Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy with seven-wicket win over Baroda  

For the players, though, the challenge of being confined to their rooms was far greater. After all, a majority of cricketers on the domestic circuit prefer to step out of the hotel for a stroll — if not a meal — virtually every day during a tournament.

“That was a bigger challenge in a way to ensure there was no unintentional breach by some of those who aren’t exposed to higher grade of cricket,” says Shitanshu Kotak, the Saurashtra head coach.

All praise: “There is always room to improve but let’s give a round of applause to the BCCI, State associations and everyone else for pulling off the tournament. It has paved the way for 38 teams to get back on the park and will ensure even other tournaments will follow,” says Saurashtra coach Shitanshu Kotak.   -  Vivek Bendre

 

“Moreover, the initial six-day quarantine was also difficult to deal with. We had to devise ways in which the players felt being part of a tournament build-up and feeling to be ready with it.”

In this quest, some teams had prepared a strict daily schedule for the whole group that had to be followed even during the quarantine, to be monitored through video-conferencing. On the other hand, a few other teams made one or two mandatory group calls to discuss the day and plans and left players on their own.

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“These are individual choices and they have to be respected,” says Jadhav. “First of all, it’s not easy to be in a hotel room for a week. I had experienced that in IPL where our hard quarantine had actually prolonged, so I was used to it but some of the others were not. Being in a hotel room is different than staying indoors at home, so I think it works better if a training programme is handed over to players and they ensure they keep up to it.”

With the SMAT20 having finished unscathed, all the teams are delighted that the BCCI has decided to host the Vijay Hazare Trophy at the same venues, except Chennai. “Having learnt from the experience of January, I am sure all the venues and teams will ensure it’s an even smoother tournament next time around,” says Pandit.

Where can the BCCI improve? Some of the coaches and players, preferring anonymity, stressed that ensuring a larger training window ahead of the tournament and allowing reserves to train on match-days could come in handy. For the match officials, it would be better if the BCCI video analysts — the ones who record all the games — are provided with a separate vehicle to ensure all the officials don’t reach the ground two or three hours before a game.

“There is always room to improve but let’s give a round of applause to the BCCI, State associations and everyone else for pulling off the tournament,” Kotak concludes. “It has paved the way for 38 teams to get back on the park and will ensure even other tournaments will follow.”