The start of a major Test series against a cricketing powerhouse is cause for much excitement. There are aspirations and expectations in the run-up to the series and every Indian cricket fan would be hoping for the best. Naturally, all attention is riveted on the series and what it could mean for Indian cricket.
However, closer home, paradoxically some distance away in terms of mindspace, a shambolic exercise is being undertaken with the scheduling of domestic tournaments.
Two factors have greatly affected the scheduling this year. The first and foremost is the sudden infusion of many new teams in this year’s domestic calendar.
The second is the untimely death of Dr MV Sridhar, who headed cricket operations for a long time in BCCI. His replacement, former Test wicket-keeper Saba Karim lacks experience and it has already started showing. Unfortunately for him, the additional pressure of having to schedule new teams has become a veritable nightmare in the absence of adequate resources.
Last week, Mumbai Cricket Association and Kerala Cricket Association voiced their protest against the scheduling of the Vijay Merchant Trophy. More state associations are expected to raise a stink about this in the coming days. But more of that later.
This year, 37 affiliates are to take part in BCCI’s tournaments — nine more than the previous year. Each of these 37 will field seven teams (Under-16, U-19, U-23, main state team in the men’s section and U-19, U-23 and main state team in the women’s section). Additionally, South and West Zone states will also feature U-14 teams in the boys section).
BCCI has divided the men’s team four ways: Last year’s 28 teams are split into three Elite groups while the nine added this year — Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Pondicherry, Sikkim and Uttarakhand — are slotted into the Plate division. There is already much heat and controversy raised about the proposed quarter-final format, but that is not the subject for this article.
The men’s teams will play Ranji Trophy, Vijay Hazare Trophy, Syed Mushtaq Ali Tournament, CK Nayudu Tournament, Vinoo Mankad Trophy, Vijay Merchant Trophy, Cooch Behar Trophy and U-23 Tournament. There are four different tournaments for women teams too.
These have led to a massive increase in the number of matches and all of them are expected to be squeezed in from 15 September and 15 March. Of course, having to stage close to 2000 matches in such a short time has hardly given the Board any time for serious planning in terms of building resources.
The Board simply does not have the required number of grounds, umpires, match referees, curators, scorers, ground equipment, cameras for DRS, etc to handle this sudden increase in number of matches. Of course, it conducted a two-day seminar and a one-day examination for fresh match referees a couple of weeks ago. Last week, Daljit Singh and his team conducted a similar exercise for curators. (Incidentally there would be two women curators this year, one from Bengaluru and the other from Odisha.)
The Board hopes to mitigate the shortages somewhat with these seminars and workshops but a lot more needs to be done in terms of quality and quantity.
The big shocker though remains scheduling. Earlier, the months of July, August and up to early September were left to Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Hyderabad to conduct all India matches wherein teams from the rest of monsoon-hit India could methodically prepare for the season ahead.
Accordingly, Karnataka hosted the Dr K Thimmappaiah Memorial tournament from 18 July to 13 August where 12 outstation state teams were fielded in the multi-day event. TNCA’s Buchi Babu tournament was usually held just before the start of the Ranji Trophy season, with Hyderabad’s Moin-ud-Dowlah, now a 50 overs-a-side tournament, held in September.
Additionally, KSCA conducts its Karnataka Premier League from 15 August to 9 September while TNCA’s TNPL is held during July-August.
The Board, that permitted these and other events to be held before 15 September and for 15 days after 1 March, has suddenly encroached on these dates too.
The Duleep Trophy, for instance, is to be held from 17 August, a time slot reserved for KPL. As a via media, the Board has ensured that no Karnataka player was chosen in any of the three Duleep Trophy teams. This might not have been the ideal situation to prepare teams for pink-ball cricket, but was inevitable given the changed equation in the number of matches.
But the worst compromise was with the Vijay Merchant Trophy. This Under-16 tournament was usually held between late December and February for a very sound reason. Schools’ academic year would start in June, they’d prepare their cricket teams in July, play inter-school matches in August-September. The state association, KSCA for instance, would have their inter-district matches after the school matches and then, based on performance and potential, select the state team.
This would be followed up with rigorous nets sessions and matches before embarking on the national competition. Most states too would follow a similar process and this ensured that talented youngsters were give sufficient scope and opportunity to grab attention. The states hit by monsoon in July and August would start their teams’ preparation a little later but still get ready by December.
Mumbai Cricket Association’s Joint-Secretary Umesh Khanvilkar explained his unit’s predicament to the Board: “It rains in Mumbai till the month of September and grounds are not ready to conduct matches. We can’t select the team without looking at the youngsters’ performances.”
Kerala Cricket Association secretary Sreejith V Nair too stated that it would be difficult to conduct trials of U-16 boys in monsoon season and get a team ready for the 3 October start.
Additionally, there is very little time to subject the chosen players to age verification programme (AVP). It is a cumbersome process wherein the results (of players of 37 teams) are sent directly to BCCI by BCCI-approved labs. These have to be pored over and doubtful cases sent back for a re-test. Now there’s no time for that either.
Worryingly, the Board has not released schedule of other matches, including Ranji Trophy and other tournaments.
In short there is trouble brewing in cricket’s stronghold. All pointers are to a winter of discontent.