If the undoubted power, wealth and standing of the politically significant Deve Gowda family could not guarantee a ‘big fat Indian wedding’ for its scion, Nikhil Gowda, earlier this month, it stands to reason that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) will not be able to have an extravagant domestic season either.
And extravagant it is, BCCI’s domestic season which involves a whopping 2036 official matches that necessitates thousands of cricketers, umpires, match referees, support staff, administrators, media, etc flying across the length and breadth of the vast country against the backdrop of COVID-19 when travel itself needs to be whittled down for reasons of safety and fears of fanning a second wave of the pandemic.
A simple back of the envelope calculation would reveal the enormity of Indian cricket’s domestic rigmarole: Each of the 38 BCCI affiliated units - barring Services and Railways whose commitment would be lower because of employment, age events, etc – fields seven teams, namely, men’s, Under-23, Under-19, Under-16 and women’s in addition to their Under-23 and Under-19. A few states also have a boys Under-14 team.
Take the prime event in the men’s section, the Ranji Trophy. It has an Elite A and B group of nine teams each; a C pool of 10 teams and another 10 teams in the Plate group. This way BCCI’s 38 affiliated units are spread across the groupings depending on their strength, previous edition’s performance and capabilities.
These groupings lead to a total of 162 Ranji Trophy league matches wherein each of the 38 teams with a minimum of 20 members (virtually all teams have 16 players, chief coach, batting, bowling, fielding coaches, masseurs, trainers, physios, computer analyst, throw- down expert, baggage man, etc) crisscross the country during a hectic period of three months. What makes this particularly cumbersome is that the Under-23 and Under-19 teams also go through the same unwieldy pattern. And this needs to be altered immediately.
As it is, last season the BCCI was forced to call off/postpone indefinitely the Irani Cup, Senior Women One-Day Knockout, Vizzy Trophy, Senior Women One-Day Challenger, Women Under-19 One-Day knockout, Women’s Under-19 T20 League, Super League and knockout, Women Under-19 T20 Challenger Trophy, Women Under-23 knockout and Women’s Under-23 One-Day Challenger.
Thus Saba Karim, former Test cricketer tasked with scheduling domestic cricket has the onerous responsibility to wise up during this lull in cricket activities and draw up a compact and manageable plan. It should necessarily minimise travel and stay in multiple hotels even as it provides better quality of meaningful competition and focus.
To put just the quality of competition in focus, the top three run-getters from last season’s Ranji Trophy matches are all from North-East states which were featured in the plate division. In fact, only the most ardent of cricket fans would have heard of Rahul Dalal (Arunachal Pradesh, 1340 runs), Tanuwar Kohli (Mizoram, 998 runs) and Puneet Bisht (Meghalaya, 976 runs). It could be argued that they cut their teeth elsewhere. But the fact that they had to parade their wares in these cricketing boondocks tells its own story. And this also goes for cricketing minnows Goa, who were plate champions.
These apart, BCCI has to simply cut down travel, stay and length of its season (last season a couple of umpires revealed that they had not been home for weeks together) and be a lot more circumspect where health and costs are involved.
The best way to do these would be to rejig the events. Take the Ranji Trophy. The 38 teams should be divided into six geographical zones of East, West, North, South, Central and North East. Just this exercise would reduce the number of league matches from the current 162 to a more manageable 102. That is, an instant reduction of 60 matches from Ranji Trophy alone, and all that it entails!
Take the case of South Zone. The seven teams of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Hyderabad, Andhra, Goa and Puducherry are all packed close together and within driving distance of one another. Other zones too are similarly networked.
Even otherwise it would make it easier if say, South’s Ranji Trophy league matches were all staged in one state, maybe Karnataka this year. The other tournaments in both men’s and women’s section as also events like Mushtaq Ali, Vijay Hazare could be similarly distributed to various states. This would considerably cut down length of tournament, travel and costs while making it easier for the official broadcaster to plan their logistics in a better way.
For instance, if Bengaluru were to host the South Zone Ranji Trophy matches (21 in all), these could be in the seven first class grounds in the city and some maybe even in Mysuru, Hubballi, Shivamogga and Belagavi. High quality accommodation is available near all these venues and each of them is close enough for road travel.
Better consolidation of tournaments, events and utilisation of resources could easily shave off 300 to 500 matches from the 2036 matches (many of them meaningless) BCCI now has on its hands. What this could do for its balance sheet and the safety of personnel need hardly be emphasised.
Why it may even bring context back to Duleep Trophy tournament where the inane India Red, Blue, Green matches makes it terribly insipid.
Certainly, the start of the Indian domestic season is some months away. But considering that local leagues, coaching camps, age-group matches and the run-up to it have been disrupted across the country, Karim would do well to use the coming weeks to do some strategic planning.
Even otherwise, COVID-19 or post COVID-19, India’s domestic season, the bedrock of its cricket, will not be the same. The sooner Saba Karim smells the coffee the better.
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