In India, we really have strong opinions on everything. And that, more often than not, drives from an emotional stand-point with a little semblance to practicality. The latest drama of Indian domestic cricket is the perfect example of the phenomenon.
The BCCI, after discussing with multiple state associations, have come to the conclusion that they would go ahead with Vijay Hazare Trophy as a prelude to the IPL, with the India-England series going on the sidelines. Meanwhile, Ranji Trophy - a tournament that couldn’t have been stopped by World War II - has been cancelled for the first time since its inception, bringing a long-standing tradition to an abrupt halt.
Let’s make it clear - this is not an ideal arrangement by any means. Ranji Trophy is an important fixture in the Indian cricket calendar and its success is one of the prime reasons behind the country having a great bench strength which was in action in Australia. Not having a Ranji Trophy after a successful Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy would also spell doom for hundreds of domestic cricketers whose major earning comes from the four-day national competition.
However, that being said, once again, this is not an ideal arrangement and more of it is down to the BCCI’s incompetence in planning the programme properly and not tackling the logistical challenges on the go with alacrity. A quick decision in the aftermath of the IPL could’ve solved a lot of challenges but now it’s too late which makes the Vijay Hazare Trophy the most prudent and logical event and not the Ranji Trophy, however, difficult that is to take.
Come to think of it. The Vijay Hazare Trophy will take a total of 22 days to complete, in the same way as of Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, with six bubbles in place for the league stage. This allows the players to have a complete tournament in addition to the 20-over event to prepare for the Indian Premier League. That means two full tournaments without a glitch for the 2020 edition, with the 2021 season already lurking around the corner.
The reason Ranji Trophy has been a massive success in producing international cricketers of better quality was because of the change in structure in the last five years. The zonal system had been shelved for good for quite a while now and now given the Elite and Plate structure are in place, it allows the teams to have a proper equitable bout with better cricketers getting a chance in the Irani Cup, Duleep Trophy and the India A events.
The beauty of the Ranji Trophy lies in its format and thus any suggestion of hosting it on a Knock Out basis doesn’t hold much logic. For the fact that the losing team in the first round doesn’t get a second chance - a fundamentally flawed concept in a four-day format. More bouts allow the stories to emerge and players shape themselves for future challenges. If that can’t be done, just protecting the tradition is archaic at most and at such unchartered times, foolish.
Another suggestion that is doing rounds on social media is to trim the groups to four or five teams each and let them play three to four Ranji games before the 14th season of the Indian Premier League takes place. Thus the knock-out stages can be played after the IPL and before another season starts in August. This also falls flat on the face given the Monsoon scenario in India and the franchises' reluctance to let players engage in any cricketing activities 15 days prior to the IPL. Thus it leaves them with a shorter window where there is a genuine concern regarding the players running to the ground.
However, allowing Vijay Hazare Trophy to take shape, the BCCI have made up for some of the gigantic mistakes they’ve committed in the last few months. Vijay Hazare Trophy, in a way, will be the continuation of the SMAT 2020-21 and nicely make way for the IPL, while allowing the board to chalk out the process for the upcoming season much earlier, and in more ways than one, would give all the players in the reckoning an opportunity to perform with the white-ball. In an unprecedented time, it is prudent to understand the overarching point and cannot be compared with hosting of the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy, a 20-over event.
With BCCI Treasurer Arun Dhumal already revealing that the board has requested the Union Government to vaccinate the players on priority, things might fall in place sooner than later. In August, if the Duleep Trophy goes ahead, as it normally does at that time, the domestic season will be back to its original form and it needs a bit of patience from everyone concerned. Whatever the mess up that had to happen had happened and now wanting to correct that wouldn’t do any good to anyone. It is better to look forward and enjoy the Vijay Hazare Trophy.