The news of this year’s IPL kicking off in the last week of March has increased fears that the BCCI may cancel the Ranji Trophy for the second year in succession. However, much to the relief of hundreds of first-class cricketers, umpires and the scorers, TOI can confirm that the Board is still mulling options to hold the league phase of the traditional tournament before the IPL, and play the knockouts later.
A top BCCI official that this paper spoke to said that the Board is “trying its best” to organize the Ranji Trophy this season. “Provided the covid situation stays in control, we’re keen, hopeful, and trying our best to organize the Ranji Trophy. If we start the Ranji Trophy by, say February 10, we can complete the league phase in a month, well ahead of the IPL. The knockouts can be played post the IPL. We are thinking of two options: Either go back to the zonal format, to prevent teams from travelling too much, or we stick to the previous formula of playing the tournament in neutral bio-bubbles, as was originally planned,” a top BCCI official told this paper on Saturday.
“The Ranji can even be held in cities and towns where the situation is improving. For example, the number of cases are coming down steadily in Mumbai. Dharamshala and Pondicherry could be a good options,” he added.
A state association official said, “Almost all the state associations want the Ranji Trophy, which couldn’t be held due to Covid-19 last time, to be held this time. We’re just waiting for a week more to see if the number of cases come down in this period,” he said. Perhaps, this is why the BCCI has still not come out with an official statement announcing the cancellation of this year’s Ranji Trophy so far.
“A major reason why the Ranji Trophy needs to be held is that the supply line to India’s Test team is getting affected majorly. You need immediate replacements for Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara in theTest team. If the Ranji Trophy isn’t there, how do the national selectors know who are the players in form in red ball cricket? The BCCI too is concerned about this fact,” said a source. “When everything else in the country is running —including trains, buses, flights, offices and factories, why not cricket in a bio-bubble? Why deprive so many cricketers of their livelihoods. For how long will you not play the Ranji Trophy due to covid scare? Covid is here to stay,” lamented a state association official.
However, there are those too who are skeptical about holding the Ranji Trophy at this time. “It will be very risky. Even if one player is infected and slips into a serious condition, the BCCI will be blamed for it. Cricket can’t be more important than life. Better to organize the Ranji Trophy post the IPL,” said another Board member.
‘Do we practice with red, or white ball?’
“Dear red ball, please give me one more chance.. I’ll make you proud, promise!,” Saurashtra left-arm seamer Jaydev Unadkat had tweeted, along with a picture of a Test match ball in his hand, on January 5, the day the BCCI decided to postpone the Ranji Trophy and all the other domestic tournaments due to a covid surge in the country.
The BCCI’s move, though logical in the circumstances, has left India’s domestic cricketers confused and anxious with the whole situation, as the Ranji Trophy is a major source of both income and opportunity. “The Ranji is extremely important for a majority of us domestic cricketers. It’s their major source of our livelihood. You get Rs 35,000 per day for playing in the Ranji Trophy. If a player plays in the full season, he can earn anything between Rs 18-20 lakhs. Players have EMIs and many other monthly expenses. This money is crucial for their survival. The other issue is, how do you plan ahead for the rest of the season? Right now, we’re confused whether to practice with the red or white ball,” lamented a well-known domestic player.