Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Road Kill For the Fans in the Ranji Trophy By Arjun Ashok

If the first round of Ranji matches is anything to go by, the on-going Ranji season is expected to produce a lot more results than previous years. Just a couple of weeks back, an insider in the BCCI had said that they had asked the curators to prepare pitches that assist the fast bowlers as this would not only make domestic matches interesting but also prepare the batsmen when they play abroad, particularly in places like England and South Africa. The first round of Ranji matches was exciting and invited a lot of fans to selected venues because of star attractions like Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli, Raina etc. There were people watching from trees at the venue in Ghaziabad, was jam packed.

The first round of matches alone saw 5 outright wins. Compare that with last season’s first round matches where only one team had an outright win in the Elite Ranji League and a single win in the plate league of the first round. The Ranji Trophy has rarely seen good sporting wickets that provide an even contest between bat and ball. Almost always it’s tilted in the batsmen’s favour. A lot of fans anticipated a more level playing field this time around especially after rumours that BCCI had asked curators to make pitches more lively.

After the end of the 2nd round of matches, looks like it’s back to square one again. If the bowlers were successful in the 1st round matches, the batsmen won the contest hands down in the second. However, not all runs scored were on flat tracks. In the game between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the only televised game of the 2nd round, the spinners did the bulk of the bowling. The pitch started assisting spin right from the world go as spin was introduced as early as over No.6 by Karnataka.

On a pitch that had turn and bounce, the batsmen needed to show a lot of application to score runs. Both teams scored over 500 in their only inns. Tamil Nadu had two centurions, the most impressive was the 18 year old sensation Baba Aparajith who won back to back Man of the Match awards at the U19 World Cup just a couple of months back. It was also Aparajith’s first First Class Ton and he put his foot down and had to work extremely hard to get his runs. It was heartening to see an 18 year old fight it out on a turning track and he was confident at the crease. While Aparajith and co had to dig deep to score runs, Dinesh Karthik was on a different planet. He walked out to bat with TN in a solid position, was a bit streaky at the start of his inns but then grew in confidence and started taking the attack to the opposition. Once he got his eye in, Dinesh Karthik just blazed away to an unbeaten 154 at a strike rate of 84 as TN declared on 538-4.

Karnataka had only one option, they had to bat once and bat big to take 3 points on first inns lead. Chasing such a massive score was always going to be difficult but the Karnataka batsmen put their heads down and got the job done thanks mainly to a fine double hundred by Ganesh Satish. Patience was the order of the day and Ganesh Satish remained cool as ever as he spent 418 deliveries in his marathon knock and got his team past TN’s total. He was ably supported by the wicket keeper batsman C.M.Gautam who played pretty much like his opposite number, mixing caution with aggression. Nobody could understand why the batsmen never found the going difficult despite the pitch turning square right from the start of the game. The batsmen proved that if they managed to stick around, runs would eventually come by.

The other games around the country saw bat dominate ball again with the likes of Kedhar Jadhav and Ravindra Jadeja scoring Triple Hundreds and double hundreds for Paras Dogra and Sagar Jogiyani. Add to that a few big hundreds as the batsmen found the going easy. Scores of 534,738 and 600 were not enough to get 3 points through first inns as the team batting second either chased down or managed to bat out the remaining days.

The Uttar Pradesh bowling coach, Venkatesh Prasad, who was also India’s ex-bowling coach made a valid point, he said,”When you are playing on this sort of a pitch, you are killing the game, killing the interest as far as the spectators are concerned, and it gives false confidence to the batsmen.’’ He was talking about the pitch at the Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium in Pune where Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra played a match for four days but still couldn’t get the first inns completed. He also said ,’’ "By scoring triple-hundreds and stuff like that, they will straightaway claim places in the India A squad, the Duleep Trophy squad, that when the actual thing is that it's a belter of a track. That doesn't make any sense. Unnecessarily, scores like 300 here are putting pressure on those batsmen who are scoring 100s or 120s or 150s on really challenging tracks.’’

These are still early days in this Ranji season, if the 2nd round is an indication of things to come, then the anticipation levels of fans across India will come down at a rapid rate and we will be in for another dull Ranji season.

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