Sachin Tendulkar was one of the many stalwarts of Indian cricket who came through playing Kanga League © PTI
Everyone knows that words ‘cricket’ and ‘India’ are synonymous to each other and the fact that the ‘Gentleman’s game’ is the number one obsession for most statistically inclined people of the country. The traffic becomes non-existent whenever India is in action against one of the other cricket playing nations and the results of the national team are the focal point in discussions for the majority of households in the country. If that is the picture of craziness and passion that the ‘Men in Blue’ paint for the entire nation then what ails the domestic cricket scene which acts as the feeder ground for the future stars of Team India? Vineet Varma takes a look at how domestic cricket in India has been left miles behind its more illustrious counterparts, who don the blue jersey every time the nation takes to field and what needs to be done to bring in the spotlight towards the many Sachin Tendulkar’s and Virat Kohli’s who sweat it out day in and day out in the country’s maidans.
If you ask any crazed ‘cricket lovers’ in the country to at least name a few other prestigious domestic cricket tournaments apart from the Ranji Trophy you may find them at a loss of words; at best, they will be able to recall more than a handful of leagues or competitions that happen day in and day out in throughout the country. India has eight professional cricket tournaments (excluding the Indian Premier League) and countless other semi-professional or club-level competitions that happen in the sweltering afternoon heat in the maidans that dot the geography of our country.
Not that the ‘cricket-crazy’ public is to be blamed for the lack of apathy shown towards domestic cricket in the country, for such is the barrage of international action that they receive day in and day out in front of their television sets which has left them oblivious to the fact of the existence of tournaments like the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy or the BCCI Corporate Trophy. Forget the above two mentioned tournaments, even the great Kanga League that has bred so many international cricketers throughout the history of Indian cricket has lost its sheen over the years with almost none of the current bunch of ‘stars’ even bothering to turn up and play in the tournament which was once considered as the breeding ground for cricketers in the city.
The USP of Kanga cricket lay in the fact that it has always been a bowler-oriented tournament in which the batsmen have to play on uncovered wickets in rainy and shoddy conditions and are tested to their limits by of course the unpredictable and uneven nature of the pitch. It was an unwritten rule amongst Mumbai’s cricketers that if you could score runs in Kanga cricket then you could score runs on any wicket against any opposition. The tournament had former players like Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar coming and getting in a match or two for their respective clubs, a scenario which is all but unthinkable for cricketers in the current era. Madhav Apte kept on playing Kanga League till he was 70.
But all that was in the past and today’s generation of ‘cricket-lovers’ are fed on a daily diet of T20 cricket and all that they care about is how far the batsman can wallop the bowler on flat pitches tailor-made for batting, with the art of bowling slowly but surely becoming a neglected one. Yes the domestic cricket scene does throw up a few ‘prodigies’ like Prithvi Shaw and Sarfaraz Khan once in a while but then many Vinod Kamblis have come and gone in Indian cricket throughout the years without having utilized their potential to good effect. The writing on the wall is clear.
Domestic cricket in the country needs an overhaul at least when it comes to the matches’ popularity and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) needs some serious rethinking to do if they ever are to sustain and make profits out of it. The best example of a domestic sporting body in India trying to rev up local interest in a particular sport will of course be that of the Indian Football Association (IFA) authorities roping in foreign clubs like Bayern Munich FC to compete in tournaments like the IFA Shield, a cue which should definitely be taken by the people who are running domestic cricket in India.
Now moving on to the bare facts and it is no secret that the TV ratings that tournaments like say the Deodhar or Duleep Trophy garner border on the abysmal and absolutely nothing has been done by the concerned authorities to spice and liven up the image of the domestic game in the country. If following the footsteps of the IFA they introduce an annual tournament in which our domestic cricketers rub shoulders with some of the very best talent in overseas cricket then it will definitely do no harm in raising the profile of the game at least at the grass root levels.
Television ratings will shoot up and there would also be an opportunity for local talent to cut their teeth against some of the finest in the business. Tournaments of such magnitude will only help to obliterate our cricket stadiums being always almost empty to the core during local matches and will go a long way in raising the profile of the domestic game in the country.
The cold fact is that despite India having won two World Cup titles (1983 and 2011), domestic cricketers are still nobodies when compared to their counterparts playing for the national team and that they lack the fame and popularity that they deserve for hurling the ball or smashing it into the stands day in and day out in the sweltering heat during local and domestic matches.
And the first step that the BCCI has to do is to give domestic cricket in India an ‘international appeal’ if they ever are to dream of local cricketers raking in the moolah for their enormous coffers like players from the Indian team do year in and year out.
If they do not do so it will be the same old story of cricket ‘fans’ stifling a big yawn whenever they come across a domestic game being telecast whilst surfing channels, with the players simultaneously trodding on without a single soul in sight to cheer them on!
(Vineet Varma is a writer at Cricket Country. He can be followed @Vinfire19)