What is the importance of Ranji Trophy for India’s Test future?

Even before the IPL came along and settled all talk about ascertaining bench strength, India had an established domestic setup that far outdid other national setups across the world. The Vijay Hazare Trophy, the Ranji Trophy, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (SMAT), Irani Cup and the Duleep Trophy, along with several state- and district-level tourneys, kept the bench relatively happy and kept the cricket stars coming.

 In a world where the IPL exists, however, and doesn’t stop at just existing – it calls all the shots on selection and form, and careers are made and broken over the course of a season – the relevance of the existing domestic setup comes into fair question.

Take the Ranji Trophy, for example. Sunday, 26th June, saw Madhya Pradesh oust 41-time winners Mumbai to clinch their maiden title in the 2021-22 season. The match and season had thrown up a large number of young heroes, mostly among the batters: the season’s top-scorer with 982 runs and 4 centuries in 9 innings, Sarfaraz Khan, having first-class figures second only to Donald Bradman’s; RCB’s late IPL find Rajat Patidar’s second-highest tally of 658 runs; and Shams Mulani with 45 wickets to lead the wicket-takers’ chart, to name a few. 

Image Credits: thehindu.com

Here, then, is an interesting statistic: Mumbai’s skipper Prithvi Shaw was retained this year for his IPL side DC for Rs. 7.5 crore (over $900,000). Madhya Pradesh, having won the Ranji Trophy, earned a cash prize of Rs. 2 crores ($255,000). Disparity much?

Here is another interesting tidbit: the BCCI purportedly could not afford to keep the Decision-Review System (DRS) for the Ranji final, citing expenses. The expenses involved are not laughable: the wiring and technological teams required for a fully-functional DRS require a fair bit of dough. What is laughable is that the BCCI had just gleefully skipped its way to the bank a few days ago, selling IPL media and TV rights for over Rs. 44,000 crore ($5.6 billion). It pays for DRS in all IPL matches, playoffs or group stage matches – and earns hefty profits per match. The BCCI alone has enough cash reserves to fuel a small country but perhaps not enough to ensure fair decisions backed by technology in its oldest domestic first-class circuit.

There is an overwhelming sense of negligent responsibility taken by the cricketing powers toward the domestic circuit, for some reason best known by the powers that be themselves. What plagues Ranji and Duleep and SMAT is what plagues women’s cricket in India, then, is it? Perhaps it all comes down to viewership at the end of the day. Perhaps it boils down to the simple problem of demand and supply: there isn’t enough demand by the country as viewers, and the BCCI does not deem it necessary to supply resources and efforts to promote the matches. 

The players are largely unknown, too, in spite of the odd IPL and international player featuring – Shaw, Patidar, and Khan make that list themselves, among others. There are no Kohlis or Rohit Sharmas or Bumrahs – but then, these same players had come through the grind of the domestic circuits at one point themselves, and viewers must contend with watching the young Patidars and Dubeys and Gharanis before they become household names.

The thing is, then, that the BCCI must work up a way to generate some interest in these matches as well. More players are interested in landing a fat IPL contract than a Ranji deal: the financial leverage is just far too great. This has resulted in a crop of players making it to the international stage having primarily T20 experience: what it means for the national side’s 50-over and Test future, only time shall tell. The format of the Ranji trophy, a classic first-class Test format, might be something that dissuades most people from coming to watch the matches. The T20 format is one which is used in the SMAT, a league far less glitzy than the cash cow the IPL is. The SMAT faces an identity crisis hence, and there are growing fears that it might soon be scrapped.

Perhaps a player with the reserve of a Pujara or the temperament of a Rahane every now and then might help: the Ranji, Duleep, and other domestic circuits can only create such Test behemoths to base national fortunes upon – something the IPL will not be able to inculcate in a dozen years. For this, concrete steps must be taken to ensure that talents unearthed in the Ranji Trophy or the domestic circuits elsewhere do not go unnoticed – the case of Wasim Jaffer is one which will haunt Indian cricket and is possibly one of several dozen other similar, unknown cases. 

Even as India manages to send multiple teams to different parts of the world for separate assignments overseas, several Ranji heroes seem to miss out at the cost of one-season wonders from the IPL, or in the case of Venkatesh Iyer, half-season wonders. A definite plan and method of order must be brought about, and soon, for a stable Test future is as essential for the national scheme of things as is a limited-overs one, and a solidly incentivized Ranji Trophy could just ensure we have the chips down on the right players at the right time. Stay Tuned with The Sportsway for more updates!

3 thoughts on “What is the importance of Ranji Trophy for India’s Test future?

  1. Arka Das is one of the best writers, who can explain such tense and tarnishing topics with an impeccable honesty and glaring sense of responsibility!

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