In February, the technical committee – note the flatness of that first word – of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) met inside the corridors of Indian cricket's headquarters in Mumbai for a session that carried plenty of importance in these times of Twenty20 bonanzas. The agenda on that Friday was to discuss a number of issues concerning the state of the domestic game in India. The meeting was chaired by former India captain Sourav Ganguly.
One of the precursors to this meeting was the brief from Ratnakar Shetty, the BCCI's chief administrative officer, to former India opener turned cricket analyst Aakash Chopra. Shetty's suggestion to Chopra had been that he writes to the BCCI's technical committee with his suggestions for change on the domestic circuit. Chopra did just that and submitted an extensive paper in which he raised the key issues of the points system currently points in place, the quality of pitches, and the role and relevance of tournaments like the Duleep Trophy.
On March 22, after an annual Ranji Trophy conclave was held in Mumbai, a three-member committee - comprising Ganguly, Anil Kumble and the BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale - formed by the technical committee began looking into the suggestions made by the technical committee and various captains and coaches across the country. Suggestions varied from home-and-away matches, playing on uncovered pitches, expanding the gap between two matches as well as the league format for the Duleep Trophy.
On June 12, the technical committee sat with BCCI officials and laid forth their suggestions to improve domestic cricket. The main features of the technical committee's recommendations are that:
- The Elite and Plate divisions be scrapped
- The 27 existing Ranji teams be separated into three groups of nine
- Points be increased to six for outright wins in the Ranji Trophy
- Knockout games be played over five days, with a sixth day available to produce a result
- Bowlers be allowed to bowl two bouncers in one-day cricket
- Bowler be allowed 12 overs in one-day cricket
These are all positive recommendations, and ones much needed. Domestic cricket is stagnating, and there is hardly and spectator turnout for Ranji, Deodhar, Duleep, Vijay Hazare and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy fixtures. In the era of the IPL there is plenty of concern about the health of first-class cricket, and of course there is the form of the national team which has lost eight successive overseas Test matches. The Indian team is in a state of transition, and there is concern that the next generation of cricketers isn't up to the mark.
Against all this, the fact that officials and former players and captains are addressing the state of domestic cricket is encouraging – the recommendations made by Ganguly, Kumble and Jagdale and the opinions of Chopra and all the domestic coaches and players are indeed noteworthy and praiseworthy. Change is needed, and that too dramatically. Tough calls need to be taken.
But these are merely suggestions. The recommendations still need to be approved by the board's working committee, if they are to be implemented. The fact that the BCCI has made these recommendations public indicates that action will be taken and that there will be changes. But as Chopra pointed out, not all change is growth and not all movement is forward.
The question is: what is the worth of these changes? Is merely recommending changes the answer to the flagging state of domestic cricket? Instead of tweaking a few rules, is it not time for a complete overhaul?
For instance, would it not be prudent to reduce the number of 27 teams to 15 to improve the first-class game? And surely the nature of domestic pitches must be changed to ensure an assembly line of players adept at scoring in varied conditions instead of slow turners or flat decks? Why can't the BCCI scrap the Duleep, Deodhar and Syed Mushtaq Ali trophies and give more importance to first-class cricket which is ultimately the breeding ground for India players?
What are needed are deep-rooted changes, both for the short term and long term. Let's applaud the recommendations put forward on Tuesday, but lets not get our hopes up yet.