Once again changes have been made to the Ranji Trophy in a bid to make it more… I don't know. For years now, domestic cricket has merely been treated as a tournament to feed the international pipeline. Since the objectives were not clearly stated by Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble et al, I'm assuming that once again the priorities are to produce the next Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag etc. It doesn't appear to me that the priority is to produce competitive games that would challenge the best and the worst teams. But I could be wrong, because the newspapers simply didn't help me understand why the format was being changed.
From a personal standpoint, I like the NFL format more than any other that I know. There are 32 teams in eight divisions with four in each conference. The "Final" is played between the winners of the conferences. However, the 16 games played during the season are smartly determined based on previous season performances. A healthy divisional rivalry system is maintained that gives bragging rights to fans that love their team beating a division rival. Note the huge rivalry between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers or New York Giants and Washington Redskins. Such rivalries spur revenues as well as interest and intensity in games.
I can picture an annual southern division rivalry between Chennai (Tamil Nadu) and Bangalore (Karnataka). A set of home and away games between these two teams would be great for cricket. A Mumbai vs Pune or Delhi vs Haryana or Punjab rivalry would likewise be good too. While NFL rivalries go back more than 60 years now, it would be great if Ranji Trophy cricket would build such a foundation.
Dividing the team into fluid groups that can change every year means that there are no enduring rivalries. Such contexts then become the equivalent of a derby as opposed to a boxing match between two top boxers. A race for points exists in the NFL too, but the context pours a lot more interest for fans and sportsmen alike to treat every game as an important one, even in a losing season.
The changes made to the bouncer rules and the focus on good pitches is a welcome step. Follow up on the pitches is critical if this plan is to work. My belief is that we will start seeing more green tops in India in the next several seasons. This is because every team has unearthed some good fast bowlers. Spin is under atrophy in India and will take a few more years before it comes back in business. For now Ravichandran Ashwin seems to be the standard bearer. Despite his not-so-great performance in Australia, people see his obvious talent and temperament. But I digress. Hopefully, this tilt towards green tops will make the matches much more interesting.
Some level of marketing needs to be done to make the matches more popular. Perhaps busing people in from rural towns or building decent grounds with good seating is required. I watched a game in Vijayawada once and it was pathetic to say the least.
I also think a season ending Irani Trophy is a great idea. Champions vs Rest of India has been a great concept and keeping the game fresh will be a good change. In addition, it will test the temperament of the best when in form as opposed to waiting for the next season, by which time a lot of water would have flown through the Godavari (or not).
The Duleep Trophy has been meaningless for several reasons. Chief among which is a lack of context. In addition, hastily assembling cricketers together is a bad idea. In fact, it might also lead to a zone full of batting riches to leave out some contenders and other zones could include mediocre players. Never understood this.
Having the Vijay Hazare Trophy winner play as one team in the Challengers too is a great idea. This would make the Challengers a little like the Irani Trophy pitting the best team against the "best available rest of the country talent".
An IPL like marketing buzz needs to be created and people in small towns need to be provided better amenities to encourage them to come see matches and cheer their town and state sportsmen. The IPL drew crowds this year with good marketing and improving the conditions for spectators. Likewise, Ranji Trophy too can do the same.
(Vidooshak is a blogger @ Opinions on Cricket . He was drawn into cricket by Golandaaz as a schoolboy. His bluster overshadows his cricketing ability. He played as a wicket-keeper in a college team but was promptly dropped. The college selection committee had slightly higher standards than Pakistani selectors. He did reasonably well in tennis ball cricket until he was benched for a final game by the team that he captained. To say some of it was due to his opinions would be an understatement of sorts. Regardless, Vidooshak finds time to opinionate relentlessly and lives a vicarious life by watching cricket teams make obvious mistakes. Good news for Vidooshak is that someone always loses a cricket game, someone always gets belted and someone always flops. Vidooshak always looks for an alternative explanation and rarely agrees with mainstream consensus. Needless to say he has no friends, only ‘tolerators’! While not throwing his weight around, Vidooshak does not run marathons or draw pictures, but reads voraciously on all topics, volunteers at local failing schools, is an avid but average golfer and runs an Indian association in mid-west America)