When Baroda prevailed in a thrilling final of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy against Uttar Pradesh at the Wankhede last week, it brought the curtains down on the Indian domestic season. That Baroda were only the second team to win a domestic silverware highlighted the dominance of Karnataka. They won three titles — Ranji, Irani and Vijay Hazare– and were the team to beat across all formats.
This domestic season — like the season before — threw up plenty of fresh talents. But are they ready for the big step? “They all have a long way to go. They might be fringe players, but are actually nowhere close to making the India squad,” warned Punjab coach Bhupinder Singh. Not just him but many former cricketers, active Ranji players and coaches, who SS spoke to, seconded Bhupinder.
A player is a product of the system. But going by the system in the country, it is hard to judge or evaluate the talent. Though the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) needs to be applauded for putting the infrastructure in place, the system does need a reality check. Except for Jiwanjot Singh, no other player who made it to the list of top-10 run-getters and wicket-takers in the previous season have had a season to cherish this time. Bad form and injuries hit some, but the rest simply were found wanting for consistency.
Former India opener and Mumbai veteran Wasim Jaffer, though, isn’t surprised. “The standard is definitely declining. Many players scored runs, but none of them could sustain consistency over a period. So we can’t straightaway put them in the national reckoning. They need to grind out for three-four seasons minimum and only then will we know their real potential. Apart from (Cheteshwar) Pujara, (Ajinkya) Rahane and (Virat) Kohli, show me one cricketer who has scored consistently over the years. Even in the case of bowlers, we don’t have someone who can continuously trouble the batsmen with pace or spin. I can’t think of seeing any special talent in the past three seasons. It is sad to see spinners trying to contain the flow of runs. They are not going for the wickets,” he noted.
Former India pacer and current Uttar Pradesh coach Venkatesh Prasad explained the system’s flaw. “It is hard to judge a bowler who takes bucketful of wickets on a green-top or a rank-turner. Yes, we need result-oriented pitches. But it will be unfair to judge the talent on such tracks, because there are so many factors, which are assisting them. Though lot of pacers have come out, good spinners are hard to find these days. Teams from south play at least a couple of spinners in the playing XI at home. But when they come up north, the whole dynamic changes. Pacers dominate the scene because of the climatic conditions that prevail in Ranji months,” Prasad observed.
Scheduling is also a factor that is hampering the domestic season. If rain affects the matches in south during October and November, matches held in north during December and January are affected by fog. “We definitely need to do something regarding scheduling. The format is good but it is not a good idea to play matches up north in December and January, where fog will be immense. It is just common sense, to play in south during that time. But some how we are doing so.”
But what has been more alarming to note is the lack of quality spinners in the circuit. A decade ago, the domestic cricket was crammed with spinners, who were unfortunate to miss out on a national berth. But today the scenario is the total opposite. Bhupinder notes the dearth of spinners is a worrying sign. “Nearly 70 to 80 per cent of matches are played on green tracks. So there is little role for the spinners. So ultimately the talent will take a hit. It is very hard to find a spinner who turns and flights the ball these days. Even the selectors say ‘I think we should try him out’ and that’s how they get a chance. Not on their merit. We are picking the bad from the worse. And we are speaking of India,” he noted.
One tournament that definitely needs a rethink is the Duleep Trophy. None of the four matches played in Chennai and Kochi this season yielded a result. In fact, North and South Zone shared the final because of rain. “The format is good, but we seriously need to think about the conditions. Every season, it is just about playing on poor tracks and scoring runs. We don’t get result-oriented tracks. It was of zero-value this season,” Jaffer opined. Is BCCI listening?
Has Duleep Trophy Losing Its Value?
This season, the Duleep Trophy failed to yield a single result thanks to poor scheduling. Torrential rains in Chennai and Kochi meant the matches witnessed high-scoring draws. The Trophy was shared by North and South Zone because of washout. “It is still a good tournament. But it needs proper scheduling and we need to play on good tracks. Of late, it is losing interest because of poor pitches. We definitely need to address this issue because it is one tournament where quality is really good,” said former India opener and Ranji legend Wasim Jaffer.