Ranji Trophy - The neglected child of Indian cricket

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© BCCI Domestic Twitter

Ranji Trophy - The neglected child of Indian cricket

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Bastab K Parida

09/27/2016

The tournament which had a folklore surrounding it can be organized and managed in a much better way before it gets kissed by the curse of oblivion.

For those who watched or read about the 1991 Ranji Trophy final between Bombay and Haryana, it was sure to leave an indelible impact on them. It was a game where both teams never gave an inch to the opposition and finally, Haryana prevailed by two runs in the closest ever finals of the Ranji Trophy. And the image of Dilip Vengsarkar crying inconsolably after the defeat would be remembered as one of the most emotional images in the tournament’s long history.

25 years later, now when the world is madly in love with the T20s, can you imagine a picture of a captain showing raw emotion, for losing a Ranji match? Maybe not. For a generation that has grown up watching T20 cricket and idolizing its white ball heroes, Ranji Trophy doesn’t have much of an emotional connection with them. For the aspiring cricketers, it serves as the audition ground to get an IPL contract. For Journalists, it is a chance to get closer to the handful of popular cricketers to have some exclusive interviews and for the general mass, it is more like an illusion.

Ranji Trophy, for long has been the platform for cricketers to showcase their potential to be selected for the Indian national team. But with the advent of Indian Premier League, the selection priority has changed and has caused the premier domestic tourney of the country an irrelevant entity.

This year is a perfect example. Busy fighting a legal battle with the Lodha Committee, the BCCI almost had forgotten to announce the schedule for the Ranji Trophy only to release it in September instead of July. Nonetheless, it is all set to start from October 6 and will continue till 11th January 2017. But once again the same question arises, how much importance will it bear?

To control the unfair home advantage, the BCCI has adopted the neutral-venue concept. This is a laudable attempt considering the wickets like Kalyani, Ranchi and Ahmedabad producing results just within two days. But with the introduction of the new concept, the Ranji Trophy may lose the local interest that it had earlier. So, was this the only way to bring back sanity to the game? Could the BCCI not form a pitch committee to look after these issues? And the answer is, looking for the solutions in a different way, could have been more fan-friendly. Teams like Karnataka and Mumbai have always inspired the locals to take up the game by putting in some brilliant performances in front of the home crowd.

But another question, and possibly the biggest of the hour, are the people really interested in looking at the performances of their Ranji heroes in the era of the slam-bang cricket?

While the IPL comes with big fanfare and star cast, the Ranji Trophy has become an old man in the house. Everyone respects it but no one cares enough to look after its future. As major international cricketers prefer to stay out of the Ranji Trophy, fans also don’t have too many incentives to come to the ground on a hot day to watch domestic cricketers locking horns.

Former Indian opener Akash Chopra in one of his columns for ESPNcricinfo has an interesting point on how to attract people to the ground for a Ranji game.

He wrote, “It's important to get the marketing right. All Ranji matches are played on weekends now. In addition to free entry, make games a great day out for the people who take time out to show up. More importantly, make matches a fun family day out. Allow kids to play on the ground during breaks or after the end of the day's play. Run contests that involve the cricketers who are playing. And so on and so forth.”

Although this idea seems more hypothetical to be implemented, considering the present scenario, this is one such way to attract people to the stadia to watch a Ranji game.

Journalists, who have been the promoters of the beautiful game, have lost their interest too. From the personal experiences of covering Indian domestic matches, I can say, it is the easiest place to get some exclusive interviews and to have some discussions with fellow scribes while sipping a cappuccino. Maybe the game still provides us with some beautiful narratives, but the romance of the Ranji Trophy has long gone.

While the tournaments like IPL are acting like a breeding ground for the selection to the national team, the first-class performances slip under the carpet. Jalaj Saxena, who was given the best all-rounder award by the BCCI for consecutive two years couldn’t gain the confidence of any IPL team, while the sudden success of Pawan Negi and Hardik Pandya in the IPL resulted in national call-ups.

Former Indian wicket-keeper V.B Chandrasekhar said in an interview to ESPNcricinfo, “There is a shortcut available for the younger lot today and the IPL throws that kind of opportunity for them. They know pretty well that to catch the eye of the selectors and the media, they need to be playing a well-organized tournament that gets maximum eyeballs over the world, and the IPL serves as a shortcut for them.”

The sheen of the Ranji Trophy is no longer present and it can safely be said that the premier domestic competition of India has hit its nadir and now has come to a point of irrelevance. The stakeholders have their task cut out. It is never too late. The tournament which had a folklore surrounding it can be organized and managed in a much better way before it gets kissed by the curse of oblivion.

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