Ranji Trophy: Coach Zakaria Zuffri hopes to add engine to restart Railways journey

After a near-miss in the final against Baroda in the 2000-01 season, Railways clinched their maiden Ranji Trophy title the next season. They won it again in 2004-05.

Published: 03rd March 2022 12:18 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd March 2022 12:18 AM   |  A+A-

Barring a miracle, Railways won’t be making it to the knockouts this season as well. (Photo | EPS)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: If 'khadoos' is what defined Mumbai the best, it's safe to say Railways was all about grit. In the nineties and the naughties, Railways was an in-demand team thanks to the job guarantees that came with it. 

After a near-miss in the final against Baroda in the 2000-01 season, Railways clinched their maiden Ranji Trophy title the next season. They won it again in 2004-05 as Murali Kartik, Sanjay Bangar and JP Yadav remained on the national radar.

Since then, they have not been able to come any close. Between 2010/11 to now, Railways have made it beyond the group stages only twice – reaching the quarterfinals in 2010-11 and the 2013-14 seasons. They have seldom looked like their former selves.

As the final round of Ranji Trophy group games begin on Thursday, barring a miracle, Railways won’t be making it to the knockouts this season as well.

“It is a rebuilding phase for us,” said Zakaria Zuffri, their coach. 

“We have some exciting players coming up and there are experienced ones like Arindham Gosh, Karn Sharma and Avinash Yadav. Then we have Yuvraj Singh, Upendra Yadav and Mohmmad Saif who all are very good players. We actually miss good fast bowlers, especially after C Pradeep and Himanshu Sangwan couldn’t play because of injuries,” added Zuffri who is a Level II certified coach.

That Railways have fallen behind other teams is quite evident. Ever since IPL came about and the domestic players' match fees increased, players have not really shown interest in joining Railways, one of the highest recruiters when it comes to athletes. Although the Railways women's team continues to remain strong in the domestic fold, apart from captain Karn, none of them have any international experience. That tells a story. Wicketkeeper-batter Upendra was recently part of the India A team that toured South Africa in November-December and is a highly rated prospect.

“The truth is players didn’t want to come to Railways and it showed in the performances. These players were looking for a good post, which was not possible in Railways because it has its own way of functioning. There are 33 disciplines, so unless you feature in the semifinals or final of a national meet or represent India, some positions are out of bounds. Unless you play Test cricket, you won’t get a certain rank. And with more and more corporates and PSUs offering good positions, players were not keen on joining Railways,” Zuffri, who also played for Railways, said. He took charge of Railways after spending the last few seasons at the BCCI's zonal academy in Northeast.

The pandemic is changing now. With many corporates and PSUs not recruiting cricketers, many are showing interest again to join Railways. Upendra and Saif joined the Railways last year and Zuffri believes a new policy is needed in Railways to attract good players. 

“To be honest we are not updating ourselves to where the rest of the state teams are. We are still (stuck) in the past. The IPL gives players a lot of exposure and they are fascinated by it. They are getting good pay there, so Railways isn't a priority for them. And you also get good pay in Ranji Trophy, which was not the case earlier. They can survive without a professional job. Players don't want to come to Railways because they consider certain positions to be too low for them. We need to upgrade our own policy. The talk has been going on for a couple of years, so hopefully, it will happen. If it happens, good players will be joining again,” Zuffri said.

The immediate target for Railways is to build a strong foundation and get a core group of players who can serve them for long. Ahead of this season with new players in the mix, Railways first had a camp at Vizag in August, followed by another one in Guwahati for the seniors and Under-25 team. 

Ahead of the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s, they had a 10-day camp in Delhi, which was followed by ones in Ahmedabad and Chennai. 

“We don’t have a dearth of talent. We just need to ensure all of them play as a unit. We have a team that has representation from across India. There is lot of diversity in the team. So need to manage everyone to bring them together. The thinking process has to be one and that is the biggest challenge I would say. These guys are talented, but everyone has their own way of doing things, their own way of expressing themselves. In a state team, it won't be an issue, because the culture is the same. The language is the same and once you know them in the initial phase, it becomes easy. But here it is different. And which is why it takes time,” Zuffri said.


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