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As readers of this column are aware, I have long argued that the ideal number of teams in the Ranji Trophy is twelve. Playing twenty seven teams entails far too much dilution of quality. Our domestic cricket has long been irrelevant and uncompetitive and at last that has been accepted. No change can begin unless there is an acceptance that the present is ineffective.
We still have 27 teams (the political reality, as we see everyday, often comes in the way of a greater good) but the marginal teams, those that bring the overall standard down, will now be marginalised further with the suggestion that you have three divisions of nine teams each. It might be harsh on them but if promotion to a higher group isn’t an incentive then maybe they shouldn’t be playing anyway. There is an attempt to make each match competitive by allowing the top three to play the knock out and the bottom two to go down. This is especially true of level 2 where you could finish outside the top two, and therefore not be promoted, but still have the opportunity of playing the knock out. And there is an opportunity for level 3 teams with the top two allowed into the quarter final.
You could say that two teams from the bottom nine will dilute the level of the knockout stage but it could be just the reward for a team with ambition as we saw with Rajasthan a couple of years ago. And even a team that finishes fourth in level 1 will have played eight first class games which is a couple short of ideal but better than what it was.
The perfect follow up to this would have been a respectful burial for the Duleep Trophy. When you are playing enough first class games for your state side there is nothing to be gained from the Duleep Trophy. But it, in fact, does worse. It promotes individual play, something that that other irrelevant tournament, the Challenger does too. Any tournament that has as its objective the promotion of individual effort and which does nothing to promote a team ethic has to be scrapped and so, while the Duleep Trophy honours one of our greats, it actually harms our cricket.
So does the Challenger. By allowing the winner of the Vijay Hazare Trophy to be one of three teams that is lessened marginally but it is still an unnecessary tournament. Sometimes a body gets healthier by removing toxins and if you want domestic cricket to produce hardened team players you cannot have events where players are just distributed around. Playing for two teams, a state team and a national team, should be good enough.
By allowing two bouncers an over in limited overs cricket this committee is testing batsmen a bit more and aligning rules to international limited overs cricket which is how it should be but it has shown a greater desire to innovate by allowing one bowler twelve overs and keeping the others down to a maximum of ten. It will be interesting to see how captains play this because, as with the supersub, sometimes good ideas can be rendered ineffective by poor use from captains.
And right at the bottom of the pyramid comes a very interesting change. The Under-22 tournament as we knew it will no longer exist and will be replaced by the state ‘A’ team that can take players upto 25. For too long our cricket has been obsessed with age and that, as everyone knows, is an invitation to imaginative dates of birth. Many years ago the South Zone had a tournament everyone called the Junior State (the P Ramchandra Rao Trophy). You could play in it till you were 25 but not after you had made your Ranji Trophy debut. In essence it was an opportunity to look at players at a level higher than the top city league. It worked really well then and I had often wondered why the idea wasn’t implemented elsewhere. Now it is but with teams allowed to play three Ranji Trophy players. I think it works well without the three but I can see that there is an attempt not just to make it more competitive but also to allow out of form state players to make a comeback. In the overall revamp it might seem like a small thing but it shows an attention to detail that is so heartwarming.
Maybe we need to look at this as Reforms 1.0 to be followed soon enough, no later than a year, by Reforms 2.0. There is room for other reforms too; especially with pitches, accounting of national and, especially, state bodies and the remuneration structure for Test cricket which should be at the heart of retaining that form of the game.
Ah, and one other thing: You put good people in good positions and you get good results.