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Ranji Trophy needs to get the importance it richly deserves
02 November 2011

India's top stars are seldom available for these matches

It is Ranji Trophy time again. Once the most-awaited domestic competition that provided the stage for the accomplished and the aspiring to display their prowess, sadly lacks the appeal and importance it enjoyed.

With the plethora of international matches on offer for the cricket fans each season, Ranji Trophy's charm is clearly lost. Matches are played to empty galleries.

Barring the players, officials and a few from the staging association who have no choice but to stay around, cricket lovers are hard to find for these games at most urban venues.

For those who are not tired of repeating the worn-out cliché “Cricket is a religion in India,” should come to any of the domestic cricket matches and try counting its devotees.

The infrastructure is for sure improving in every state but the quality of pitches, rather the lack of it, often proves a dampener.

Bowlers toil on lifeless wickets and batsmen's run-making ability stands magnified on flat pitches. All it takes is one tour of England, South Africa or Australia for things to fall in perspective.

Financial bonanza

It is indeed a financial bonanza for the lesser mortals to be part of first class cricket. Driven by commerce, the international calendar ensures that India's regulars are seldom available for Ranji Trophy. Harbhajan Singh has played just two matches in nine years for Punjab.

After being on National duty for long, most cricketers are obviously happy to gain an exemption from turning up for Ranji Trophy matches.

There was a time when Sachin Tendulkar would not miss a single opportunity to be available for Mumbai. Sunil Gavaskar has headed straight from the airport to the stadium to be part of Mumbai's campaign.

In recent times, too, there have been exceptions. Rahul Dravid takes pride in turning out for Karnataka whenever possible, as does V.V S. Laxman for Hyderabad.

Virender Sehwag played crucial roles in key encounters, once each in away games against Railways and Haryana in the chances he got to play for Delhi in past few seasons. Sourav Ganguly has come out of retirement to play for Bengal. Suresh Raina will assist Uttar Pradesh. But glaringly absent is the commitment of most players.

Fatigue is an understandable reason for the leading names to give Ranji Trophy matches a miss. Ever heard of players skipping an IPL season or even a game due to fatigue?

Since the players in the National team these days come from more states than ever before, their non-availability impacts quite a few teams. There were seasons when Mumbai contributed its cream to the National team but still managed to be better than the opposition.

These days, when its players are on National duty, Delhi, Mumbai, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and to an extent Uttar Pradesh feel the pinch, in varying degrees.

In the past decade, it is creditable that without the services of Tendulkar and its pace spearheads in most matches, Mumbai has won the Ranji Trophy five times!

In fact, between 2002 and 2005, a starless Railways claimed the title twice. On the flip side, Railways also became the first defending champion to be relegated to the Plate division.

In contrast, Rajasthan battled it out from the Plate division this year to become National champion!

Rajasthan's triumph proved that reputations do take a serious beating and the underdogs sometimes nose ahead of the favourite.

Baroda's remarkable consistency also reinforces the point. No doubt, the non-availability of stars brings down the difference in strengths between a reputed and a lesser team. It does make things more competitive but only at the cost of quality.

For India's overseas record in Tests to improve, the Board needs to give importance to the quality of pitches and competition in Ranji Trophy. It is time to give the National championship the importance it so richly deserves.

 

 

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