The efficacy of domestic cricket

AJIT AGARKAR'S admission - on winning the 'Man of the Match' award for his bowling in the sixth one-day international - that playing in a Ranji Trophy match gave him the rhythm as well as the confidence to bowl the way he did indicates how match practice is better than net practice. Those long spells helped him not only to get his rhythm back but also allowed him to experiment a bit and then find out what was the best way to take wickets.

This just underscores the point that it is better for those who are not playing in the XI for India to go back to Ranji Trophy and try and get back into form rather than just whiling away time sitting in the reserves. Unfortunately, the financial rewards of being a part of the National team are so much that the players feel that going to the Ranji Trophy is just not worth it.

There is the glamour aspect too of being chased for autographs and photographs while being with the Indian team. Some free gifts, too, come their way which certainly does not happen at the Ranji level. So nobody is game to volunteer to play a Ranji game and try and get his form back.

The loyalty to the Ranji team that propels a player to international recognition is simply not there and once a player makes it to the international arena he is not really bothered what his colleagues at the Ranji level are doing. If he does deign to play in a Ranji game then the most noticeable thing is the sun cream he has splashed on his face. It's almost as if now that he has become an international player the sun beats down more in a Ranji game than before he became an international. And yes, now he will only want to wear the India shirt and not the state Ranji Trophy sponsor's shirt as if the opponents are going to be scared by the sight of the India shirt.

Seriously though, what the Board must do is to pick only 12 players for the Test and invite promising youngsters from the state where the Test is being played to be the reserve players so that they can see from close quarters how the achievers like Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar, Srinath, Harbhajan and Co. prepare themselves to play a Test match. Of course, these youngsters must firstly be free from their Ranji commitments and be top fielders to be picked. If not from the state then these players can come from the zone or even from the 'A' team. The players picked will be the better for the experience of rubbing shoulders with the Test stalwarts.

Just imagine, depending on how many Tests there are, how six to 10 youngsters will go back to their cricket with confidence and dreams in their eyes! In 1979-80 the BCCI picked only 12 players for the Tests and invited two youngsters from the state to act as reserves and it worked very well.

The BCCI should also make a playing condition for the domestic tournaments that if a player is pulled out from the middle of a match for national duty then that team should be allowed to replace him with another player who can bat and /or bowl in the match and not just field. If one is not mistaken, the ECB has a provision like this for their domestic cricket because they too have the County Championship on during the Test matches.

This provision is needed to ensure that there is no ulterior motive in selecting a player to play for India when he is in the middle of a Ranji or a Duleep game. The recent case of Agarkar and Sarandeep Singh being selected to play in the sixth and seventh one-day internationals even while they were playing against each other in the Mumbai-Delhi Ranji game is a case which could have had serious repercussions. Luckily, the match finished in three days and there was a good flight connection to Jodhpur for the one-day international for both players to reach in time, but what if the match had gone into the fourth day? Both players were key performers for their teams and would have been missed by their squads.

There has been an instance of a selector who had actively encouraged the selection of players from another zone to play for the Board President's XI against a touring side since his zone was playing that zone on the same dates in the final of the Duleep Trophy. Not only that, he did not push, as was his wont, a single player from his zone for selection to play the tourists. With the opposite zone thus weakened, his zone won the tournament with little difficulty.

That is unlikely to happen this season as the Indian team will be touring and so the touring squads will be known earlier. However, if there has to be a replacement flown out due to an injury to somebody on tour, then the BCCI must put in place a provision that will allow the state or zone team that has to release the replacement for national duty to be able to play another one in his place in the XI.

National duty will always take priority, but with the new format of Ranji Trophy pitting teams with similar strengths, the loss of a player can turn out to be the difference between winning and losing.

Most important is to draw up the schedule in such a way that there is no clash between Tests, one-day internationals and domestic cricket. It may not always be possible but serious efforts have to be made so that there is no heartburning anywhere. To be able to do that the dates and venues of Tests and one-day internationals must be fixed well in advance and not one month before the team lands in India. In fact, since the domestic calendar is fixed in May or June the tour schedule should be built with that in mind. Domestic cricket can be ignored only at Indian cricket's peril and the quicker the BCCI realises it the better for Indian cricket.