Domestic cricket needs a fillip

STILL THE BEST: Javagal Srinath  

WITH THE World Cup having ended and the Duleep trophy championship now in progress, it is time to shift attention to domestic cricket in India. Unfortunately there exists a vast gap between international cricket and domestic tournaments as far as encouragement, facilities and media focus is concerned.

A surfeit of international cricket has badly affected the domestic circuit which is in the doldrums. This does not augur well for the future development of the sport in the country.

The Ranji Trophy tournament under the new format seems to be concentrating on quantity rather than on quality and the Duleep trophy matches wherein the competition used to be between the respective zones, have also undergone a change and now it is the players of teams in the Elite and Plate groups who are involved.

In a way this may perhaps do away with the quotas which invariably found their way into selection process of the zonal teams under the previous format, but it also has its drawbacks. While there is no harm in experimenting, it also has to be kept in mind that too many changes in a short time may easily backfire. The problems which dog the domestic set up are many and have to be addressed one by one in a systematic manner by the Board.

For one thing the pitches in India continue to be flat and favourable to batsmen of a mediocre variety. Therefore even batsmen of very modest talent are able to pile up scores which are extremely flattering and do not present a true picture of their real ability and calibre.

ON A ROLL: Ashish Nehra

ON A ROLL: Ashish Nehra  

This is a pity especially since for the first time in many years, India seems to have acquired a new ball attack comparable to the best in the world as was witnessed during the recently concluded World Cup. A far cry since the days when part time bowlers were given the new ball to work off the shine so that the famous spin quartet of Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Venkat could get into action at an early stage.

Now Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath and Ashish Nehra have forged a deadly pace combination - a sight rarely seen in Indian teams of the past. There are a few more promising seam bowlers waiting in the wings such as Irfan Pathan who put up a good performance in the first round in the Duleep trophy. Seam bowlers have to be encouraged by preparing wickets which have some bounce and pace.

Not only will such tracks help the seamers to blossom but also the batsmen will get used to playing on fast and bouncy tracks. Every time the Indian team returns from a disastrous tour of from abroad, particularly Australia, (and here one should not forget the catastrophe in New Zealand before the Word Cup) a lot of noise is made about preparing fast pitches. This false show of determination lasts for about two weeks and then everyone forgets about the whole issue and it is back to status quo for one and all.

This negligent attitude will only ensure that India's performances at the international level continue to be as unpredictable as the English weather. If India is to match the consistency of the present bunch of Aussies then all the talk will have to be replaced by concrete action. A sense of complacency could end up frittering away all the gains that have been achieved in recent times.

PACE ACE: Zaheer Khan

PACE ACE: Zaheer Khan  

Another aspect that the administrators of the sport have to look into is the non-participation of the top international players in most domestic matches. The absence of the "stars'' lowers the prestige of the domestic tournaments and robs the state level players of a chance to play against and alongside those who have donned the national colours. A chance to test their skills and an opportunity to have an exchange of views with international players could help youngsters to develop their standard and morale considerably.

For the sake of future development, domestic cricket has to be given its due importance. With a little effort and planning it can be easily ensured that the clash between international and domestic fixtures is minimal and there is scope for the national team players to also take part in domestic tournaments. The game deserves greater priority than the individuals. For, the players - however great or talented they may be - will come and go, but the game will outlast them all.