Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ranji Trophy Re-Tinkered

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Once again changes have been made to the Ranji Trophy in a bid to make it'know I don't know. For years now, domestic cricket has merely been treated as a tournament to feed the international pipeline. Since the objectives were not clearly stated by Ganguly, Kumble et al, I'm assuming that once again the priorities are to produce the next Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag et al. It doesn't appear to me that the priority is to produce competitive games that would challenge the best and the worst teams. But I could be wrong, because the newspapers simply didn't help me understand why the format was being changed.

From a personal stand-point, I like the NFL format more than any other that I know. There are 32 teams in 8 divisions with four in each conference. The "Final" is played between the winners of the conferences. However, the 16 games played during the season are smartly determined based on previous season performances. A healthy divisional rivalry system is maintained that gives bragging rights to fans that love their team beating a division rival. Note the huge rivalry between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers or New York Giants and Washington Redskins. Such rivalries spur revenues as well as interest and intensity in games.

I can picture an annual southern division rivalry between Chennai (Tamil Nadu) and Bangalore (Karnataka). A set of home and away games between these two teams would be great for cricket. A Bombay v Pune or Delhi v Haryana or Punjab rivalry would likewise be good too. While NFL rivalries go back more than 60 years now, it would be great if Ranji Cricket would build such a foundation.

Dividing the team into fluid groups that can change every year means that there are no enduring rivalries. Such contexts then become the equivalent of a derby as opposed to a boxing match between two top boxers. A race for points exists in the NFL too, but the context pours a lot more interest for fans and sportsmen alike to treat every game as an important one, even in a losing season.

The changes made to the bouncer rules and the focus on good pitches is a welcome step. Follow up on the pitches is critical if this plan is to work. My belief is that we will start seeing more green tops in India in the next several seasons. This is because every team has unearthed some good fast bowlers. Spin is under atrophy in India and will take a few more years before it comes back in business. For now Ashwin seems to be the standard bearer. Despite his not-so-great performance in Australia, people see his obvious talent and temperament. But I digress. Hopefully, this tilt towards green tops will make the matches much more interesting.

Some level of marketing needs to be done to make the matches more popular. Perhaps busing people in from rural towns or building decent grounds with good seating is required. I watched a game in Vijayawada once and it was pathetic to say the least.

I also think a season ending Irani Trophy is a great idea. Champions vs Rest of India has been a great concept and keeping the game fresh will be a good change. In addition, it will test the temperament of the best when in form as opposed to waiting for the next season, by which time a lot of water would have flown through the Godavari (or not).

The Duleep Trophy has been meaningless for several reasons. Chief among which is a lack of context. In addition, hastily assembling cricketers together is a bad idea. In fact, it might  also lead to a zone full of batting riches to leave out some contenders and other zones could include mediocre players. Never understood this.

Having the Vijay Hazare Trophy winner play as one team in the Challengers too is a great idea. This would make the Challengers a little like the Irani Trophy pitting the best team against the "best available rest of the country talent".

An IPL like marketing buzz needs to be created and people in small towns need to be provided better amenties to encourage them to come see matches and cheer their town and state sportsmen. The IPL drew crowds this year with good marketing and improving the conditions for spectators. Likewise, Ranji too can do the same.


Homer said...

Why is the Duleep Trophy as the lung opener not a good idea? The start of every season, for the next 7 and a bit years is the Champions League, followed by either a home series or an away tour. Also, the way the FTP is scheduled, 4 of the next 7 and a half years, we have a proper off season after the IPL, with no tours scheduled in between ( This year we play NZ, twice we tour England and are in SL once). So, between the CL and then the Duleep Trophy, players can be worked into mid season form and also selection can be based, in part, on Duleep performances. Also, players missing on the CL can get game time in Duleep. And the presence of the best and brightest can only elevate the stature of the Duleep Trophy, no?


Vidooshak said...

It could for sure. So as a selection trial it's perhaps a good idea to continue the duleep. I tend to have tunnel vision about playing long games that have little fan interest.

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