Clayton Murzello: India's big domestic problem

By  Clayton Murzello | Posted  19-Jan-2017

Staging Ranji Trophy on neutral venues made it a farce as players had to parade their skills on unfamiliar turf, in front of sparse crowds

Mumbai’s Shreyas Iyer batting against Gujarat in last week’s Ranji Trophy final at the Holkar Stadium in Indore. Pic/Prakash Parsekar
Mumbai’s Shreyas Iyer batting against Gujarat in last week’s Ranji Trophy final at the Holkar Stadium in Indore. Pic/Prakash Parsekar

In a way, the recent Mumbai vs Gujarat Ranji Trophy final belied the farcical neutral venue concept adopted by the Indian cricket board’s technical committee headed by Sourav Ganguly.

The committee probably felt that neutral venues would completely rule out the doctoring of pitches as per the needs of the home team. Yes, that objective was served, but does it compensate for the absolute dissatisfaction of players parading their skills on away-from-home turf and in front of sparse crowds? While poor pitches still came into the mix, it is pretty clear that spectator-interest, so often ignored in Indian cricket, didn’t matter in this major change.

If the real issue centred around curators preparing tracks to suit the home team, solutions were not closely looked at and the need for alternate measures to be put in place seemed ignored.

Firstly, how about the appointment of pitch supervisors arriving well before the match to ensure no hanky panky takes place? How about drafting punitive action for those curators or state associations who prepare poor pitches? The decision to play at neutral venues is like running away from the problem when the right thing to do was to look the issue in the eye and challenge the villains with we-mean-business action plans.

That the BCCI, through their decision, has in a way, accused all curators of succumbing to pressure from their teams/state associations is another matter.

Doubtless, the significance of domestic cricket has been chipped at through the neutral venue system. Cricket fans have been made to read the writing on the wall: “Ranji Trophy is not India’s premier domestic cricket tournament anymore; the IPL is, so like it or lump it.”

Indian cricket’s on-field credibility is the envy of the world now and it’s not because of the IPL. The national team is filled with players who have performed incredibly in first-class cricket. To deny future India players the pride of performing before home crowds is just not cricket. Punish errant curators/state associations, not the players!

It’s a crying shame that Shardul Thakur, who made it to the India squad, has not been seen in action on his home ground (Wankhede Stadium) this season. Ditto Abhishek Nayar, a tireless comrade for Mumbai.

Talking about Mumbai, there has been a fair bit of criticism inflicted on the former champions after they let Gujarat cross the line in Indore where Parthiv Patel and Co. clinched their maiden Ranji Trophy title. Yes, they batted poorly in the first innings and the dropped catches were always going to be pivotal to the end result, but they surprised me by ending up in the final. It was not a strong Mumbai side and I wonder whether the campaign would have ended had it not been for the selection of 17-year-old Prithvi Shaw.

Ignore youth at your own peril, they say. Fortunately, the selectors along with MCA vice president Dilip Vengsarkar, helped by India ‘A’ and under-19 coach Rahul Dravid’s recommendation, picked Shaw. His century in the semi-final against Tamil Nadu not only created a lot of interest in the Ranji Trophy, it also helped reduce the neutral venues-caused disappointment. The fluency he displayed on the morning of Day Three of the final (when he scored 44 off 35 balls) left television viewers awestruck.

Sure, Prithvi’s Ranji innings had blemishes, but he wouldn’t have been undeserving of a spot in the Rest of India team for tomorrow’s Irani Cup tie against Gujarat. The national selectors probably felt it was too early to give him a higher stage to wield his willow of rhythm, but Prithvi playing the Irani Cup would have stirred up some more interest in the annual fixture.

Irrespective of what happened in the final, it must be accepted that Mumbai cricket could do with better quality players. That can only be facilitated through a mighty upswing in club cricket standards. The tag of 41-time Ranji Trophy champions is more than impressive, but to improve that number shouldn’t become a magnificent obsession. What should be under intensive care are school and club cricket, as well as meaningful talent hunt programs. The amount of talent that doesn’t get attention in this city is frightening and fairness many a time seems to be in short supply.

The performance of the under-19 and under-23 teams has been abysmal this season. It’s a good time for introspection. It’s an even better time for action. The lion on that MCA logo must roar with pride again.

mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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