Ranji reforms - a step in the right direction
The lack of awareness on social media when the Ranji Trophy recommendations were first announced was baffling. '27 teams now in Ranji' was the call from far and wide, and it was surprising indeed that many did not know that even while in its two-league format, there were 27 teams in the competition. Yes, for the last time, the number of teams hasn't changed. But the changes recommended by the BCCI's technical committee are welcome ones indeed.
Dividing the teams into three groups is the best move going ahead, especially when onus is on streamlining the domestic structure. In the Elite/Plate format, there was a lack of cohesion when dealing with group matches in particular. The two groups in the Elite division had unequal number of teams, thus leading to unequal number of matches as one group plays more than the other group and a confusing home-away system. Also, the Plate teams played lesser number of matches in any particular season. Both these factors are now out of contention, lending the whole league a lot more clarity. Let us talk about competitiveness now.
Teams will be grouped on the basis of their standings from the 2011-2012 season. Each team plays eight matches, four home and four away. The top three teams from groups A and B will make it to the quarter-finals, while the remaining two will come forth from Group C. At the end of the season, the last three teams from group A will be relegated to group B and the top three from B will be promoted to A. The last two from B will be relegated to C and the top two from C - who also participate in the quarters - will move to group B for the next season.
While relegation and promotion exist in the previous format too, the scale in this new proposal has been expanded. More teams in the fray always mean an increase in competition and survival of the fittest. You only have to look at the many relegation battles in the English Premier League and quite a few of them go down to the wire, on the last day of the season. Imagine a scenario where four teams are battling to stay up in group A, whilst another four are similarly fighting in group B. That will be an epic day for Ranji aficionados across the country!
There are further incentives on offer for achieving outright results. Apart from six points for victory and bonus points, all knock-outs - and not just the final - will be five-day affairs with a sixth day available for finishing up with a win. In case the matches haven't been decided on first-innings' leads, there is another day available in such matches as well. If it still doesn't give a proper result, then coin-tosses come into play. This could be the biggest incentive of all, since who would want to put forth their hard grind of blood and sweat down to the whims of a coin?
There is also a suggestion of offering cash incentives to players if they achieve outright victories. That is the wrong way to go about it. A small case in explanation takes us back to the Ranji final from last season, when Rajasthan batted their way to a second straight championship. They were able to do so not because their players are against winning matches outright or incapable of managing anything but first-innings' leads. Instead, they saw the pitch and realized nothing could break it down, thus played to the conditions. It is about winning after all. The point herein is that majority of the blame for this dampener of a final lies at the doorstep of the pitch curator. Instead of offering cash incentives to players, if the same is introduced as a prize to the curator whose pitches allow outright results, won't two targets be achieved with one arrow? For, pitches are the definite next step in this cycle of improving our domestic game.
While a majority of these recommendations are meritorious, there are also some question marks emanating. For example, what is the value of Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy when none of the winners get to participate in the Champions League Twenty20? It only serves as a feeder to the IPL and the only argument in its favour is that why not allow all domestic players a chance to play Twenty20 cricket when they are all playing first-class and limited-overs every season?
While that is a fair reasoning, there are other concerns. The change in the domestic calendar sees the Duleep Trophy being played out at the head of the season. How is this tournament - and its one-day equivalent Deodhar Trophy - still surviving? Isn't zonal competition completely obsolete, more so now when the Ranji league has been simplified? The only plausible answer is that the BCCI doesn't want to do away with hallowed names such as Duleep and Deodhar attached to its history, and this is to be expected from their red-taping ways.
But if you must retain them, why not make it talent hunt? Allow only Under-22 players to participate in these zonal tournaments, while limiting the number of seniors from each zone to just three or four in the squad. It will enable younger talent to come forth on a big stage and earmark them for the upcoming first-class season, and will surely be a better cut-off than what the IPL provides.