Hello and welcome once again to DRS, my very own personal space where we talk matters cricketing. Just a few days ago, Mumbai have won the Ranji Trophy for the 40th time. That's right! For the 40th time Mumbai have become the Ranji Trophy champions. It's quite a remarkable feat when you look at it. Across the world, some states or some areas have dominated the sport for the longest time. New South Wales were seen as the home of Australian cricket; Yorkshire were seen as the home of English cricket; Barbados were seen as the home of West Indian cricket but there were limited periods when these areas dominated the game.
By contrast, Mumbai's dominance is extended over a prolonged period of time which is what makes it so special in a way. For 15 years, between 1959 and 1973, Mumbai never lost the Ranji Trophy. I can say with some pride that my father, the late Dilip Sardesai, was the member of that Ranji Trophy team that never lost a single tournament in those 15 years. That was seen as the glorious period of Mumbai cricket; when there was a time when six or seven players who were playing for Mumbai were also playing for India. In fact, the joke went around those days that it was more difficult to get into the Mumbai team than the Indian team.
Now, Mumbai have once again re-asserted their supremacy but things have changed. To call Mumbai the home of cricket at the moment would be challenged by those who believe that cricket today has spread to every corner of the country. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is from Ranchi, you've had the rise of Bengal over the last decade or so as several cricketer emerging from there. And the new cricketers are all coming from the small towns. The Cheteshwar Pujaras are a good example of the new breed of Indian cricket coming from smaller towns and doing remarkably well at the national level.
What has happened though is the number of these top cricketers have stopped playing the Ranji Trophy. It perplexes me as to why Dhoni, for example, has not played a single game for Jharkhand in almost eight years. It's almost as if once the cricketer plays international cricket, he no longer wants to play Ranji Trophy anymore and that's a pity! That's unfortunate because it was always believed that Ranji Trophy was the cricket which was the breeding ground for the next generation of Indian cricketers. Even if you saw the final of the Ranji Trophy, there were barely a few thousand people who had come to watch the match. 20-25 years ago you would get packed audiences and all the top Test players would be playing against each other. In fact, it was a pity that Cheteshwar Pujara, whose team Saurashtra had reached the final for the first time, was instead in the reserves of the Indian team and didn't even play the final.
Rohit Sharma could have been easily drafted in to play the final once it was known that India had won the ODI series against England. It's clear that the BCCI too has its priorities; you would rather have a player being a reserve or an extra in a match where India have already won the series than get him to play India's most prestigious tournament. Couldn't the Ranji Trophy final have been delayed by a few days to ensure that Ravindra Jadeja and Pujara play for Saurashtra and Rohit for Mumbai. The fact is that we're appeared to be obsessed with the IPL and international cricket. The result is domestic cricket has faltered. In a sense if Mumbai are still able to win the Ranji Trophy, it reflects more on the fact that many of these other states are unable to get their international players to play for them as regularly as they should.
It also, of course, does reveal that Mumbai have a depth of talent that still sustains cricket in the state. What has changed though is the class dimension. In the 50s and 60s, most of the cricketers came from the heart of Maharashtra's middle-class areas. Today, they come from the far-flung suburbs of Mumbai. So the social geography of the game in a sense has changed in Mumbai. In all these years though, one thing happily remained a constant this time. Sachin Tendulkar played the Ranji Trophy final, perhaps for the last time, but it was good to see an international cricketer, albeit an international cricketer in the last days of his career, at least turning up for his state side. I think the time has come when somehow the Indian cricket board needs to address the problem of domestic cricket. It needs to decide how important is the Ranji Trophy. Are international cricketers at least going to make an effort to play for their home states or is it even more important to play for Chennai Super Kings for Dhoni than to turn up for Jharkhand?
It would be a pity if that is the pecking order that if it is more important for you to turn up for your IPL side, because the money is much greater, than it is to play for your state side. After all, Dhoni did come through junior cricket in Jharkhand. Does he not owe this much to Jharkhand cricket? The same is for all the other international players who seem almost reluctant now to play in the Ranji Trophy. This was the great tournament that was started in the name of a man who in a sense bridged the divide between India and England by becoming such a phenomenal cricketer in the early part of the 20th century. I hope that that tradition of the Ranji Trophy is not lost. I remember my late father once telling me that it almost gave him as much pride playing for Mumbai as it did for India. When he won the Ranji Trophy, it gave him a sense of pride and he retired in the belief that he was a part of a team which never lost Ranji Trophy. It would be nice if the next generation of cricketers were also to have a similar emotional bond to their home state and their domestic cricket. That would really lift the standards of domestic cricket.