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Whoever said domestic cricket in India wasn't competitive?

Sunday, January 25, 2022

Domestic cricket - Alive and Kicking

Arun Gopalakrishnan

Consider this – Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble have together only played in a total of 154 Ranji Trophy matches across their career. Now when you compare that against the number of Test matches they've played in their careers so far – 532 in all - you'll realize why followers of Indian cricket complain about there being little excitement in domestic cricket in India.

However, a close inspection of the matches in the ongoing domestic season reveals that despite the absence of the stars, the matches have been just as exciting and competitive as it would have been had the stars played.

Off the 89 matches in the Indian domestic cricket calendar so far (prior to the ongoing Duleep Trophy tie between Central Zone and South Zone at Bengaluru), 54 matches (61%) have ended in a definite result – that's a pretty significant number by itself, given a vast majority of matches in the Indian domestic calendar are of four days duration and many think four days isn't enough time to force a definitive result.

Further, a look at the matches drawn also reveals something to suggest even those games have been competitive. Off the 35 drawn matches, there have been eight matches where the difference between the two teams in the first innings has been in the region of 30-40 runs – the first innings lead is a pretty crucial element in the Ranji Trophy, given, according to playing conditions, in case of draws, teams getting a lead in the first innings earn more points than the other team, and in knockout games, the team taking the first innings lead will sail through to the next round.

A look at the last few matches in this season will also be testimony to the fact that the matches have been competitive; in the first semi-final of the Ranji Trophy between Mumbai and Saurashtra, Mumbai-the eventual winners of the title, only managed to edge past Saurashtra, even if flawed playing conditions contributed to the excitement of a chance of Mumbai getting knocked out despite scoring 637 in the first innings – that's if they couldn't bowl out Saurashtra in the first innings. They eventually managed to bowl them out, but just in the nick of time – 42 minutes after Saurashtra were bowled out and after Mumbai had started their second innings, bad light and rain first interrupted play and then forced an early closure.

In the other semi-final too, between Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, the latter only managed to edge past Tamil Nadu's first innings total – UP, staring at 421 for 8 and on the brink of giving away the first-innings lead and a place in the final, were rescued by the ninth wicket pair, who added 26 runs to take their team to the title clash – with a lot of events unfolding in the final few overs of the match.

So too in the final, Mumbai, reduced to 55 for 4 after winning the toss and opting to bat first, recovered to post a competitive 402, and then went on to beat UP to clinch their 38th Ranji Trophy title.

A similar story unfolded in the ongoing Duleep Trophy tie at Bengaluru too – South Zone, after winning the toss and opting to bat first, were reduced to 86 for 6, but then recovered to post a healthy 329. Central Zone in reply, made a mess of their run chase, collapsed to 78 for 4, but recovered through a partnership between Mohammad Kaif and Naman Ojha, but then collapsed yet again to hand South Zone a crucial three-run lead.

For something that's generally termed uninteresting and drab, the numbers tell a different story altogether.