Ranji in 2021: Unhealthy virus stops play

New Delhi, January 31

The Covid-19 pandemic has done what even World War-II could not do — bring to a halt the Ranji Trophy’s 86-year journey.

The first Ranji Trophy match was held way back in November 1934 and the first final of the tournament was held in March 1935, a little less than 86 years ago. The most recent match of India’s premier First-Class tournament was the final of the 2019-20 edition, which was played from March 9 to 13, 2020 — just when the country was witnessing the first surge in Covid cases.

Retired cricketers, who were witness to days when the Ranji Trophy matches attracted huge crowds, have sympathised with the current players who will miss the entire First-Class season. The truncated cricket season would comprise the Vijay Hazare Trophy, senior women’s 50-over tournament and the 50-over Vinoo Mankad Trophy for Under-19 men.

“I am sympathetic to what players might be feeling but I think whatever decision BCCI has taken is in the best interest of everyone,” former India wicketkeeper Chandrakant Pandit, one of the country’s finest domestic coaches, said. “I am happy that there are at least two tournaments happening. Could a truncated Ranji Trophy been an option? I don’t know but BCCI, in a short span, also had to organise the Vinoo Mankad Trophy keeping the U-19 World Cup in mind.”

The BCCI has 38 First-Class teams after the inclusion of the northeastern states and Uttarakhand coach Wasim Jaffer, who is the tournament’s most prolific performer ever, cited the practical difficulties. “Ideally, I would have liked Ranji Trophy to happen, there is no doubt about it,” the former India opener said. “But obviously with 38 teams, so many players, the venues and all that, probably it was a bit difficult logistically, so I can understand.”

However, the tournament’s absence does hurt him. “It’s still very sad for the first time the Ranji is not happening, so it is obviously is going to be sad,” Jaffer said. “Especially the players who play only red-ball format, they are not going to play a red-ball tournament for a good 18 months.”

Ashok Malhotra, another domestic stalwart who is also the president of the Indian Cricketers’ Association (ICA), said holding the Ranji Trophy by keeping the players in a biosecure bubble for four months was never going to work out. “I recently did commentary for BCCI in Mushtaq Ali Trophy and I was in a bio bubble for a good two-and-a-half weeks,” said Malhotra. “It is a very tough life even at my age so just think — was it practical to put 800 domestic cricketers in three-and-a-half month bio-bubble?”

Bengal’s bowling coach Ranadeb Bose was also in a bio-bubble in recent times. “Every second day you are having a swab test, your pulse and oxygen count is being checked and your movements are restricted,” he said. “Ranji Trophy is a near four-month exercise if you have a full tournament. Your bubble is sacrosanct. There are cricketers with aged parents or toddlers at home and you don’t get to meet them. You are confined to same hotel room for months. Not great for mental health and I feel BCCI has done the right thing by organising Vijay Hazare Trophy.”

What happens to Ranji goals

Wasim Jaffer’s primary goal with his trainees at Uttarakhand was to reach the Elite Group. “Ranji Trophy would have helped us to check where we stand in red ball cricket but that is not going to happen. But I am happy players have something to play for,” said Jaffer.

But what about those who might have got selected for India A through the Ranji Trophy? Both Bose and Malhotra felt that that’s not a problem because India’s top 20-22 cricketers are automatic picks.

“Let’s be honest, you may have had at the max one player who would be considered for (India) A team after one good Ranji season. Others are all regular performers,” Bose said.

Malhotra gave the example of Abhimanyu Easwaran who, despite not having a single fifty last season, is an India stand-by because of his past performances. “Easwaran had two to three good seasons before one bad season. So selectors were right in keeping him in reserves,” Malhotra said. — PTI, TNS

Money matters

For a state team regular without even a minimum IPL contract (Rs 20 lakh), a full season of Ranji Trophy, Vijay Hazare, Mushtaq Ali, Duleep Trophy would mean earnings of around Rs 15 to 20 lakh per season and this time it will be less than half of that. But the BCCI has promised a compensation for domestic players and that might bring in some financial respite. “Playing Vijay Hazare Trophy, you get 35-40,000 per game (Rs 35,000 for Hazare, 17,500 for Mushtaq Ali) and that is not enough,” Wasim Jaffer said. “That money also comes in after six-eight months, so the guys who are only dependent on match fees with a family to feed will be in for hard times.”

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