It is not really hard to say that Indian domestic cricket is not that good – it is clearly not at par with the domestic competitions of countries like Australia and South Africa or England for that matter. The system cannot be completely faulted though as it has produced some champion cricketers over the years. However, I do think some changes could be made to the existing structure.
It is not surprising to see that teams like Australia, South Africa and England have been dominating world cricket in turns for over the last 20 odd years since the demise of the great West Indian winning machine. Even the Windies had an exceptional standard of domestic cricket when they were winning everything during the ’70s and the ’80s. Countries like India and Pakistan, on the other hand, have only flattered to deceive so far.
Imran Khan had once stated that Pakistan plays well in spite of its domestic set up – the same sentence can be applicable to India as well. In spite of being the two most naturally talented cricket teams, they have never really had much of a run at the top. Much of the blame in this case can be apportioned to the fact that they never really had a sound cricketing system backing them as such. The first class structure is where you breed your champions and this has so far been shamefully neglected in India.
Quality is always key when you look at successful sporting set ups but quantity seems to be the watchword over here. My first suggestion here would be to give paramount importance to the Duleep Trophy, which is the zonal competition. I am not saying that the Ranji Trophy should be scrapped. It has a proud tradition and should always be treated as an integral part of the domestic cricketing calendar.
In fact, I think we can have a system where the zonal competition can be played with the name of Ranji Trophy and we can have 6 teams that have definite catchment areas including the northeastern teams. This is how the catchment structure can look:
Central Zone – Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Railways, Vidarbha, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh
Northern Zone – Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab
Southern Zone – Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Hyderabad, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu
Western Zone – Baroda, Maharashtra, Mumbai, Saurashtra, Gujarat
Eastern Zone – Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar
Northeastern Zone – Assam, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland
I also propose that the Ranji Trophy be named the Duleep Trophy and we can have all the provinces and city teams play over there. Not many people know that there is an age group competition for all the states of India and this includes the teams from north east as well as newly formed teams like Chhattisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh. I think Bihar can be brought back into the fold as well.
Now comes the question of quality. It is not unrealistic to think that the team from the northeast will be swamped by the rest. I think the ideal way to counter this is to have a draft system of the national level players, by which I mean players who have represented India, and this should be done so that all the teams are equally matched. They can also be allowed to recruit 6 overseas professionals each. I think that would make it an exciting competition.
The question of player burnout can also be tackled by having a pool of elite players from the catchment teams who will only play in that top tier tournament. The state level championship can continue with a completely different set of players. This will give more exposure to players from different parts of the country. The BCCI can also make sure that from the quarters this tournament is shown live by its broadcast partners so that there is some interest in the players to compete over here.
The quality of pitches also needs to change. The top level competition should be played on pitches like the Gabba in Brisbane which is described by many as the ideal test wicket. If needed the curator over there can be flown here so that he or she can instruct our groundsmen on how to make ideal sporting wickets. In the second level competition too, the emphasis should be put on making the pitches as hard and bouncy as possible. This will make sure that a player does not face baptism by fire upon graduating to the highest level.
All said and done I still have my doubts as to how much, and if any, of these wild thoughts of mine will ever be translated to reality but I am sure that these are worth giving a look and could change the game if ever implemented.