‘We call ourselves the most competent and the biggest cricket board in the world, don’t we?,’ starts a renowned cricketer, audibly frustrated at the turn of things. ‘Surely this is a mess but it is baffling at their open lack of concern.’
As the BCCI decided to create multiple bio-secure hubs and roll the next season of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy from January 10, it was definitely welcomed by a section of cricketers but a majority, including some IPL regulars SportsCafe spoke to, were in a rage. The lack of standing in regards to Ranji Trophy, the country’s premier domestic competition, left them detached mentally and financially.
“Cricket has been our major source of income and we also have a family to feed. When England, Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and even Zimbabwe can host the first-class tournaments, we can definitely do it. Not all matches are broadcasted, logistics are about getting the players to a hub and host it. Why are they pushing and pulling so much,” was how a senior cricketer who represented India at the highest level told SportsCafe.
There is some sort of clear logic to this statement. India might not have controlled the pandemic the way other countries have, but bio-secure hubs are a norm now. Given multiple cities have more than three-four first class stadiums, hosting games in hub format is a less challenging proposition. As a matter of fact, the Vijay Hazare Trophy and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy are being played in such a format for years now, with six to seven teams congregating in one city to play their league games.
Even before the Zonal system was nipped in the bud, the idea of playing against teams from geographical proximity was very much an active idea. A former skipper of a Ranji team asked why the BCCI can’t use the same-old formula to get the ball rolling in the red-ball format.
“I don’t have any grudge against the IPL or Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy,” the cricketer clarified, before going on, “Look, it is a matter of pandemic and all that. But flight operations are on. The four-day competition should have been declared right away, albeit in a cramped manner. Virat Kohli has always championed the cause for Test cricket and spoke about the importance of it. Now he is in a powerful position. It is time for him to speak for the Ranji Trophy. He might not play but a push to host the tournament will ensure things falling in place.”
From a figurative standpoint, this also makes sense. An exclusive bus journey can be made to the hub, with a couple of months inside the bio-bubble, helping the tournament running parallelly with the England series. But will anyone care?
The BCCI, after accepting the resignation of Rahul Johri, is yet to appoint a full-time CEO. The General Manager Cricket Operations, who was majorly responsible for domestic cricket operations, has now resigned for five months, with no new application sought yet by the board to fill the vacancy. Amidst all the uncertainties, we are realistically looking at a potential scenario where the Ranji season doesn’t take place for the first time since its inception.
Beyond that, the board has a lot more questions to answer as well. The IPL ended over a month ago with massive success, but the board is waiting for another month to kick-start. Why couldn’t those in power be that fast in their approach and roll it in December itself to give themselves enough buffer to host a truncated red-ball season from January?
Remember a player earns Rs 35,000 per day as the match fee for one red-ball game and Rs 17,500 per game in the Mushtaq Ali Trophy. So for a four-day Ranji Trophy match alone, players earn Rs 1,40,000 as the match fees, which is fixed, and then almost an equivalent amount as the Gross Revenue Share (GRS) from the BCCI. SportsCafe reported earlier how the players haven’t received a penny from their GRS amount since 2016 and if the red-ball season is canceled, they will suffer a huge problem monetarily - a factor Sourav Ganguly, a champion of increasing payments for domestic cricketers before taking the role, should weigh in.
The pandemic has caused enough damage to the cricketing ecosystem, not least the lack of practise during the lockdown, to push the domestic cricketers off guard. A Syed Mushtaq Ali is a good start but now the onus is on the BCCI to get the Ranji Trophy rolling. It has been a blessing for many over decades, and its preservation is the key to sustaining the growth pyramid of Indian cricket.