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Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 11 : 51

Vijay Hazare, Deodhar Trophies need restructuring


The 'wise men' have a tough job at hand, for once. The onus of curative action after India's abysmal showing overseas now lies solely with them. With India dismantling the Sri Lankan attack in a crucial game of the CB Series, there is every chance of a warped sense of satisfaction to seep in. We must realize though, that everything is not right with Indian cricket just yet. Good sense must claim superiority in picking up the right personnel for the upcoming Asia Cup, keeping in mind the experiences from the last two foreign tours.

But, with most current players hopping out of form, where do the selectors look for change? One answer would be domestic cricket - specifically, the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the national 50-over tournament, currently under way. Good performances in first-class cricket ought to be rewarded with the right breaks, and as far as one can tell, the selectors must now be looking in that direction with a keen eye. The big question though that begs to be asked is: how good a yardstick is the Vijay Hazare Trophy?

It's fair to assume that a well-compiled century or a five-wicket haul in the Vijay Hazare Trophy would make you sit up and take notice of the talent. These numbers couldn't have been easily acquired, one would rightly believe. But, how would you rate these same figures if a Delhi player had gained them against a much weaker team like J&K or Services? Obviously, not too highly, since the change in scenario is bound to change assessments too. Statistics must be analyzed contextually.

So, if we are not going to pay heed to these performances - since they don't reveal the complete picture - then of what good consequence are these matches, conducted year after year? While the Ranji Trophy graduated to a successful format of Elite and Plate divisions, the Vijay Hazare Trophy is still played within the five zones. That means that every year the stronger teams play some meaningless matches against weaker units. That's precisely the reason why the same teams qualify for the knockouts every year, which is when the real competition starts. All matches, post the league phase, are of the same pedigree. That reflects the potency that a tournament of this stature must possess. Since there are fewer matches, the selectors also get an opportunity to watch all the games.

But if it's all about the knockouts, then why have a redundant league phase of the tournament? Doesn't it make sense to embrace the Elite and Plate division format in the shorter format of the game too? Or is 50-over cricket not important enough to merit such generosity?

Having meaningless matches isn't the only issue plaguing the league phase of the Vijay Hazare Trophy; the scheduling also does its bit in making it utterly futile. There are at least two or three league matches, per zone, played each day of the tournament at different venues. Is it possible for a zonal selector to be present at two places at the same time? Obviously then, it's unfair to blame the selector for going by just numbers and not how they were acquired.

Moreover, these matches are often either played every alternate day for eight days, or in certain zones, teams play matches on two consecutive days. This senseless scheduling only explains our obsession with conducting as many tournaments as possible, irrespective of the quality of cricket on display, its relevance and its purpose.

This senselessness is further demonstrated in the way we handle players and their issues. The best performers of the Vijay Hazare Trophy are rewarded by a place in their respective zonal team for the coveted Deodhar Trophy. While it sounds like a good enough incentive, it isn't that lucrative in reality, for the Deodhar Trophy, in the current format, gets over in four days. This season, North Zone is slated to play the semi-final on March 18 and if they win, the final is on March 19. Are we really expecting/believing that it's physically possible to bring one's best game to the park on two consecutive days? And even if it is plausible, are just two innings - if your team wins the first match - enough to judge a player's caliber?

It is unfortunate that the BCCI's Technical Committee comprising of senior cricketers failed to address these issues, for they have recommended changing the dates and not the format. And since that hasn't been done, such worthless tournaments will continue, and worse, made a yardstick for future India selections.


More about Aakash Chopra

Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test Cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for the country in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after the legendary Eknath Solkar. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. A grand total of 783 runs came off Chopra's bat in Delhi's title-winning Ranji Trophy in 2007-08. Chopra currently plays for the Rajasthan Royals of the Indian Premier League and represents Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy, after having played for Delhi for over a decade. He also amassed a massive total of 734 runs in Rajasthan’s Ranji victory in the year 2010-11. In 2009, Chopra turned author with Beyond the Blues: A First-Class Season Like No Other. The book garnered critical appreciation while Cricket Pundits like Suresh Menon claimed it to be "the best book written by an Indian test cricketer” in his review for www.cricinfo.com. Aakash continues to tell the story of Indian cricket, its frustrations and fantasies, through his popular weekly column in The Hindustan Times, www.yahoo.com, www.cricketnext.com, sports magazines and through various TV shows.