Opinion | Comment

Ranji Trophy should be the main arena in Indian cricket

Madhya Pradesh team after winning their final Ranji Trophy cricket match against Mumbai, in Bengaluru on June 26, 2022. The streaming tears of joy of the victorious and the anguished cry of the vanquished  are a throwback to the times when the Ranji Trophy was Indian cricketers’ most keen sought prize. 

Madhya Pradesh team after winning their final Ranji Trophy cricket match against Mumbai, in Bengaluru on June 26, 2022. The streaming tears of joy of the victorious and the anguished cry of the vanquished  are a throwback to the times when the Ranji Trophy was Indian cricketers’ most keen sought prize.  | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

Tears welled up in Chandrakant Pandit’s eyes. He was a happy man. The team he coaches had just won Indian cricket’s premier championship, the Ranji Trophy (June 22-26, played in Bengaluru). It was a first ever for Madhya Pradesh, one of the country’s biggest States and once upon a time home to the legendary C.K. Nayudu, India’s first Test captain, who played for Holkar, then based in Indore. 

Not many metres away was a teary-eyed Amol Muzumdar, Pandit’s comrade-in-arms when they had both played for Mumbai many years back. Muzumdar was crestfallen at the defeat of the once invincible Mumbai, the team he coaches and a team which from 1934 onwards has won the Ranji championship 41 times, a record which not many teams can even hope to aim for.       

Bearers of a fine legacy

The streaming tears of joy of the victorious and the anguished cry of the vanquished  are a throwback to the times when the Ranji Trophy was Indian cricketers’ most keen sought prize. It was a gateway to greatness and fame, the road which took generations of greats, from Nayudu to Sachin Tendulkar, to stardom and international recognition. Both Pandit and Muzumdar are products of that era and their tears were a genuine reflection of the significance they attach to the great tradition of the game and its history. 

Today, in the age of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and franchise cricket, a five-day first-class cricket final, to many, including even the Indian Board perhaps, is a ritual which they must perform, given the perfunctory manner in which it is conducted. Not many outside the core of passionate followers of Ranji cricket would be familiar with the names that filled the roaster sheet of the final this month. 

Mumbai captain Prithvi Shaw, yes, only because he has played for India and the IPL. However, the name that resounded the most with the handful of spectators present was Madhya Pradesh’s Rajat Patidar. The Bangalore crowd recognised one of their own stars, who had hit a century in the IPL, and shouted, “RCB (Royal Challengers Bangalore), RCB”, whenever Patidar crossed their line of vision.

Mumbai’s Sarfaraz Khan, who averages a staggering 81 in first-class cricket and has scored nearly 1,000 runs in this Ranji season, did not ignite their imagination. By any yardstick, Sarfaraz, with this phenomenal achievement, should have been part of the Indian team now in England. Unfortunately the IPL has yet to put its stamp of greatness on him. Even in the Ranji final, the long shadow of the IPL was making its presence felt. 

In the time of T20

Cricket has taken a definite turn towards the shortest format of the game ever since India won the World Twenty20 title in 2007, and the IPL became part of the national discourse and imagination from 2008 onwards. It is not that India abandoned the red-ball game, or ignored it at the international level. It made it to the ICC World Test Championship final last year, and has among the most lethal fast bowling combinations in the world. It is just that India’s priorities at home and the importance it places on the Ranji Trophy championship have changed. Scheduling the IPL is far more important than the Ranji championship, as was reflected during the pandemic. It was not even conducted last year. 

Across the country, youngsters sign up at cricket academies in the hope and desire of honing their hitting/slogging skills to earn an IPL contract. And why not? In a shrunken job market, it can help them earn a few lakhs, if not many crores, of rupees and even secure the India cap. Those who have already made it to the top are not interested in playing the domestic long format. They earn enough through IPL contracts, which require them to spend just a couple of months playing and are far less gruelling and demanding than first-class cricket. Why spend five-six months preparing and playing domestic cricket, that too when the financial returns in comparison are a pittance? 

A Ranji player gets around Rs.1-2 lakh a game. In the absence of any central contracts, even that sum is not guaranteed and an injury may force you not only out of the team, but out of the pay cheque as well. No wonder many top players who are not on national duty representing India have skipped playing the Ranji championship this year. The Board has imposed no sanctions. 

This piece is not a lament or a requiem for Test cricket but a reminder of the lop-sided priorities that could harm Indian cricket in the long run. Take, for example, the simple fact that the State cricket associations’ main job is to organise domestic cricket and develop infrastructure at the grassroots level. With the latest round of bidding on media rights for the IPL bringing in truckloads of money — around Rs.48,000 crore — each State association’s yearly earnings will be, by even conservative estimates, substantial. They have to spend it on non-IPL events, with Ranji being obviously their top priority. 

First-class priorities

Is it asking for too much that the Board revamps its payment structure for Ranji and domestic players? By way of comparison, a top Indian cricketer is centrally contracted to get around Rs.7 crore a year while the prize money for winning the Ranji Trophy is a mere Rs.2 crore. There could be many other ways to spend these vast amounts of money to make first-class cricket in India a more enjoyable experience for the spectators and a far more rewarding outing for the players. This needs the administrators to be more alert to the various challenges that may confront a nation of cricket-crazy millions which otherwise is getting swamped by the popularity and glamour of the IPL and its riches. A one-dimensional approach could prove counter-productive in the long run.   

Pradeep Magazine, a Delhi-based journalist, has reported on cricket for decades and is the author, most recently, of ‘Not Just Cricket: A Reporter’s Journey Through Modern India’   


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Printable version | Aug 4, 2022 5:55:12 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/ranji-trophy-should-be-the-main-arena-in-indian-cricket/article65575336.ece