CLOSE-IN: The sun seems to have set on Ranji Trophy

June 28, 2022

By Yajurvindra Singh

The Ranji Trophy used to be the premier Indian tournament that every Indian cricketer aspired for. It was in the 1934/35 season when it was introduced to replace the religious format of the Pentangular.

The Ranji Trophy had the patronage of the Royal Houses of Holkar, Nawanagar, Baroda, Patiala, Vizianagaram and Gwalior, each one as involved as the present IPL franchise owners. The rivalry between them was what brought in professional cricketers and jobs for players. Major states such as Bombay, Maharashtra, Bengal, Hyderabad, Madras and Mysore were also a part of the tournament, with many of their players having lucrative jobs in these big cities.

The Ranji Trophy grew in status and success for players who were in it as it gave one the platform for selection into the national side.

Unfortunately, the popularity of the limited-overs cricket format has made the national tournaments in all the major cricketing countries into a ritual that has to just be performed and completed.

The English county cricket and Sheffield Shield in Australia were the two important cricket leagues which boasted of top International players from every corner of the cricketing world. Both these and the Ranji Trophy in India are like the setting sun, wherein, gradually the light is fading on their existence.

Once the sheen of its importance dwindles, young cricketers may not find it aspirational to play in them.

The Ranji final being played in Bangalore between Mumbai and Madhya Pradesh is a good example of how the tournament is perceived. The final match is being played without DRS or the fanfare that goes with it to brand it as a big tournament. One feels the step-motherly treatment is very evident to one and all. Officials who thronged the IPL final were not visible during what can be termed as the biggest domestic tournament of the country.

The Covid-19 epidemic did disrupt the BCCI hosting the tournament last year and the BCCI had to make a major alteration in the format this year. However, one was aware of the date of the pending Test match to be played against England in England and therefore, it would have been appropriate if India’s national players could have participated in it at some stage or the other.

A Mumbai Ranji squad with Rohit Sharma, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav and Shardul Thakur would have been an entirely different cup of tea for most opponents. A domestic cricketer will only improve playing against and with the best and this seems to be a farfetched wish in the present scenario.

In the years gone by, India capped players who would make it a point to play even if they could play just one match for their home association. They felt obliged to do so as, apart from their state association, helping them to achieve their dream, for them to play cricket alongside their buddies was an important factor too.

One was as proud to play for one’s state side as much was to play for the country. This emotional attachment, one feels, is not present in the cricketers today. Apart from Sarfaraz Khan, whose performance for Mumbai in the last two editions of the Ranji Trophy has been remarkable, none of the other performers will see the light of day to be considered for national duty.

Sarfaraz will most likely be a part of the Indian squad against Bangladesh. However, for him to get into the playing eleven would be very difficult. The reason being that the present Test side will be playing just one match, and to drop any of them is highly unlikely, even if they fail. Apart from this, KL Rahul would be back in the side and one may see a sterling performance from players in the limited-overs game, who will get preference over Yash Dubey, Shubham Sharma and Rajat Patidar. These are players who have toiled and done well in the Ranji Trophy for Madhya Pradesh.

The performances in the IPL have become a major benchmark to get recognised for selection into the Indian team. The Duleep trophy has already lost its importance and so has the Irani Trophy.

The BCCI needs to champion the importance of Ranji Trophy, and the only way to do so is to ensure that the national-level players play in it.

The tournament requires an infusion of a complete out-of-the-box thinking to revive it. The IPL has proven successful with International players being a part of it; maybe an international presence to it could be one way to take it forward.

One is amused to see the graphics which were being put up on performances during the final. Most were unaware that till the 80s, the majority of the teams played only four First-class matches during the season. This was because apart from the top state sides who qualified for the knockouts, the rest were actually put to rest if they did not qualify.

Most of the matches were played on matting wickets and the point system for the three-day game did not give one the luxury of playing a long inning. The side batting first had to declare before lunch on the second day or else they would not be able to get the maximum points to enable them to qualify. The outfields were at most places barren land which was watered and rolled to even the surface.

This is what made the Ranji Trophy exciting with thousands of people watching matches on temporary wooden stands. A good performance was greeted with spectators running in to give small change as appreciation. Those coins were very valuable as it helped one in getting a ticket into the cinema house for a few of ones colleagues and a snack as a treat for them.

Good performances in India’s prestigious Ranji Trophy was the first step to playing higher cricket. That was when the tournament was like a rising sun. One hopes that the glitter comes back to it or else it will be like the setting sun very soon.

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer)



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