Though boring, it deserves attention

WE have all seen TV serials that carry on endlessly, stretching from one dreary episode to another.

AMIT MATHUR

WE have all seen TV serials that carry on endlessly, stretching from one dreary episode to another. These are the Ekta whatever productions about (supposedly) contemporary women of India who are forever weeping or scheming.

David Beckham is always in the news. Whether he breaks into a smile, takes a corner, scores a goal or engenders speculation about his transfer. — Pic. AFP-

Now, it seems, certain sports news items are also like these soaps, they occupy space on the sports page on a regular basis, popping up every now and then up with a new twist to move the story forward by a few inches. Take, for instance, the Beckham transfer. He is shifting, we are told authoritatively one day, and all manner of transfer details about millions of dollars involved to construct the deal are tossed up to attract our interest. Next day there is a strong denial, the story is refuted. But no sooner this happens another round of speculation starts. The response to this, beyond a point, is WC — who cares?

The Leander/Bhupathi dost-dost na raha story is another popular news item. This was a great partnership which ran into rough weather, the two parted and went different ways. But media interest refuses to fade and each time a major tournament is held, stories about them/ their rivalry/their partners resurface. Initially this was of interest, now the whole thing is a big bore. Of course we follow the fortunes of the two players but this ceaseless focus on their differences has become a huge strain. Whether they are together or separate, what is there?

Cricket too has its share of really boring stuff, none more than the subject of domestic cricket. The whole range of Ranji Trophy has been discussed and analysed threadbare, every angle flogged to death. So much that people are really weary, it is already beyond saturation point.

Don't we know that Ranji Trophy is badly neglected, that nobody (players or officials) are really bothered because players don't get enough money and officials don't get enough mileage from it. Because of this Ranji is played in some poor centres, in front of poor crowds, on poor wickets and with poor umpiring. The entire scene is depressing, crying out for urgent reform.

What needs to be done is no secret, even a under-13 cricketer from Panipat or Patna can offer a blueprint of reform. If the problems of India's domestic cricket are known, the solutions also stare us in the face. One only needs to, please pardon the clich�, read the writing on the wall.

Of late people are reading, and taking corrective action. Last season's experiment to split Ranji into two groups worked quite well. Which can't be said though about Duleep Trophy which is no better than an extended Challenger Cup where teams consist of players who don't recognise each other, nor do they identify with the team they represent. This must be changed, maybe Duleep should be scrapped to create more space in what is otherwise a cramped calendar.

Much more heartening than mere adjusting existing tournaments is the sudden desire to move forward in a substantial manner. Bringing spin within NCA's fold is welcome but there is some concern about the basic premise which says this art is endangered. Spin bowling has changed, as have other aspects of cricket, but is reverting to traditional methods of huge flight and tossing the ball up the answer?

With one-day cricket, the always delicate balance between bat/ball shifted further towards aggressive batsmen and in this process spinners have taken a beating. But to correct this spinners must learn tricks — how does scrapping one-day cricket till 17 help? If the thinking is that a youngster will learn traditional skills of spin, and then use them profitably, then this argument has two serious defects.

One, when the youngster starts playing one-day cricket after 17, he will be totally unfit for one-day cricket. Seventeen is too late to start, too late to learn new skills. Two, this is more dangerous: whatever he has learnt before 17 will be unsuited for challenges that confront him. What he means is this : an arts student can't sit for a science exam. If science is inescapable (as one-day cricket is) then why not start from the beginning?

The problem, I suspect, stems from a misplaced hope that what worked a generation ago will also work today. But things are not static, to meet new challenges, new answers have to be invented. Contemporary batsmen won't succeed if they batted like the masters of yesterday; likewise today's young spinners can't succeed if they xerox the methods of our famous four.

While we can argue about the peeche chalo in spin, there is little dispute about BCCI's three other initiatives. From the coming season match fees for Ranji is being enhanced, each of India's 600 current players will now receive at least Rs. 20,000 per game . This is a major advance towards making domestic cricket a financially viable career option and will, hopefully, raise quality of play and make Ranji more competitive.

That the Board is serious about spreading cricket to new areas such as the North East is another positive move. With this more talent should be spotted and brought into the organised structure of cricket. The ambitious programme provides for direct assistance for improving cricket infrastructure (for ground, pitches, fitness equipment) and deputing coaches/umpires/cricket ambassadors to strengthen the game. Who knows, down the line, we could have a string of talented players coming from Arunachal or Lakshwadeep.

The official chat between the BCCI and captains/coaches is another step which suggests a changed attitude, a mindset which is open to new thought. More than others, players know how things work out on the ground, their understanding and analysis is invariably spot on. To maintain a dialogue with them, and to keep a line of communication open, ensures corrections are made as and when required. Moreover, and this is more important, it shows that you respect your players, value their opinion and judgement.

Everyone is concerned about domestic cricket and everyone has universally blasted the Board for neglecting this part of Indian cricket. But now, though there is progress, people are still not interested perhaps for two reasons. One, scepticism — nobody knows how this actually unfolds. Two: nobody is really bothered, Ranji does not count. How does it matter if a player gets an extra thousand or the captain of Tripura gets a personal hearing with Dalmiya?

Which is sad. Ranji could be boring compared to news about Dravid in Scotland or Srinath in Durham. But it deserves our attention.