A few days back, during the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals there was a major row before Uttar Pradesh’s match against Karnataka. The UP coach had wanted seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the team before the all-important clash in which his team ultimately came second best. He had even asked BCCI to allow him to play but the request was turned down on the ground that the players needed to rest having toured South Africa recently and also because they were about to embark on a tour to New Zealand. Prasad was later backed up by Rahul Dravid who felt that the Indian players who are due to play in New Zealand could have participated in the quarters and that would have lifted the profile of the premier first class domestic competition in the country. The list of players who could have appeared for their respective states with permission from the BCCI includes the following:
- Suresh Raina and Bhuvneshwar Kumar for UP
- Mohammed Shami for Bengal
- Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma for Mumbai
- Stuart Binny for Karnataka
In the end, as it turned out UP and Mumbai lost their respective matches and Bengal made it to the semis following a thrilling finish, which may have been smoother had Shami played alongside Dinda and Shibshankar Pal in Bengal’s seam attack – something that has served the team well in the ongoing season. Karnataka had all their first choice players available with the exception of the medium pace bowling allrounder Binny and so trumped a UP team that is well known for its consistency.
One of the major areas of problem for Indian domestic cricket is the lack of star power that could draw more people through the turnstiles, encourage the local players to perform better and thus raise the overall standard of the match. However, in what may be termed a depressing malaise, Indian players have either elected to not appear in these matches or the board has deemed it fit to let them rest ahead of what may be termed exacting schedules. This has meant the Ranji Trophy has never really reached the heights it could have and its status as the breeding ground of next generation of team India cricketers is also being questioned.
The BCCI is right in trying to rest its premier players before tough series – in fact in the next couple of years India has a test series each in New Zealand, England and Australia and then the quadrennial showpiece – the World Cup. However, the main question in this regard is does each and every player need to be rested? As was rightly pointed out by Prasad, Bhuvneshwar could have done with some match practice against a quality opposition like Karnataka considering the fact that he has not played any competitive cricket for almost a month. Raina also could have garnered some confidence with a good innings against a decent bowling attack that has two test seamers in Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar.
Even when Mumbai lost, Rohit Sharma felt bad for his home team’s loss to traditional regional rivals – Maharashtra – and stated quite clearly that the team suffered in his and Rahane’s absence. That shows that he was willing to play for his state team and wanted it to win. Perhaps the BCCI could take it on a player by player basis and ask if a certain player is willing to play for the local team given an opportunity before declaring them to be unavailable. If somehow the player is not fit or if the management wants him to be rested then it is a different issue.
The basic idea should be to make as many players available as possible for domestic competitions rather than withholding as many as possible. That way, Indian cricket will move in the right direction – otherwise, in a few years’ time it will be reduced to a glorified practice session for the Team India players and IPL will be the only serious domestic competition in India. That would be a shame indeed, a big shame!