Tag Archives: Challenger

Changes to the Ranji Trophy… Not enough

The BCCI’s technical committee, which included former players, Saurav Ganguly and Roger Binny — along with ‘special invitee’, Anil Kumble — recently recommended an overhaul of the Ranji Trophy, India’s premier first-class tournament.

The Ranji Trophy currently has 27 teams divided into 2 Divisions; one called Elite with 15 teams and the other, the Plate, with 12 teams. The Elite league is split into two groups, one with 8 teams and the other with 7. The Plate league is split into two groups with 6 teams in each. A collection of teams from these groups then fight it out at the knock-out stage of the Ranji Trophy competition. The people who decided on this current structure either had a lot of fun, smoked a rare kind of weed or had a gun stuck to their heads (or all of the above)!

Thankfully, the BCCI’s Technical Committee suggested an overhaul of the Ranji structure. They have recommended the scrapping of the Elite and Plate divisions and have suggested a rearrangement of the 27 teams into three groups of nine each. I am sure the BCCI will come up with imaginative names for these three groups although PlateCup and Saucer are my initial offerings.  This is certainly not a bad suggestion by the Technical Committee. Indeed, I campaigned for a somewhat similar restructure nearly 5 years ago.

In my view, this current overhaul is a step in the right direction; but it not quite enough. There are several reasons why this is just not enough, in my view:

  • The Premier Division should contain fewer teams that play each other more often.
  • There is no reason for constructing the knock out competition in the manner suggested unless one is worried about elitism and a complaint from Ram Guha about the lack of adequate representation for the down-trodden.
  • The Ranji Trophy, the primer inter-State tournament in India and the tournament from which India gets to harvest the next generation of talent, lasts a bit over 2 months! The Sheffield Shield involves fewer teams and lasts close to 4 months.
  • There are way too many domestic tournaments that need to be squeezed into the calendar: Challengers, Corporate Cup, Irani Trophy, Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy, Deodhar Trophy, and the IPL.
  • The pitches should be result-oriented and the points should reward risks and outright wins far more than it currently does.

We have to assume that a league with less than 27 teams is just not feasible. Ideally, the league should have no more than 14 teams in two Divisions of 7 teams each. However, let us accept that, for a variety of political reasons, a league with a fewer number of teams is just not possible.

The best players in the competition ought to play more games against the best opposition. The reason why Australia produces a string of excellent quality players — especially bowlers — who appear to be International match-ready is, in my view, because of the intensity of the battle at the highest level. Australia’s Sheffield Shield has just six teams that play each other home and away.

In addition, the Ranji League ought to see many more result oriented pitches. Home and away games must be the norm. A 9-team league does not provide the luxury of structuring a home-away type competition.

The Technical Committee also made recommendations aimed at providing greater incentives for outright wins in the league matches. The current suggestion is that outright wins will be worth six points (as opposed to the current five) and the bonus point system (for ten-wicket wins or innings victories) will remain. This is not enough in my view. I agree with Aakash Chopra on this suggested change. A team that wins ought to get a purse of Rs 15 Lakh (a lakh per player) and teams that draw ought to receive just Rs 1.5 Lakh, say (ten thousand per player). We might then see teams behaving differently. The reward that is on offer might see teams take on different kinds of risks. I also think that the points system ought to be tweaked much more in favour of a win. I would have made a win worth 10 points.

The current model that has been suggested by the Working Committee is that

  • Nine teams from the three Divisions play each other once only.
  • The 3 top teams from Division-A the 3 top teams from Division-B and the 2 top teams from Division-C play in the knockout phase; a phase during which players from the remaining 19 teams twiddle their thumbs and prepare for the IPL!

There is no real justification for having a knockout stage constructed in this strange manner unless we want to (a) satisfy the romance of another Rajasthan happening, (b) give Aakash Chopra an opportunity to write another book and/or (c) keep Ramachandra Guha from picking up his pen once again in a show of anger at the lack of democratic representation!

The real problem I have with the suggestion that is on the table is that it does not promote a drive to excellence as much and as hard. It just does not go far enough in my view.

A different model:

I would like to see the BCCI Technical Committee consider a totally different model though:

  • Split the current 27 teams into 4 Divisions: Div-A (6 teams), Div-B (6 teams), Div-C (7 teams) and Div-D (8 teams).
  • Each team in Division-A and B play each other at Home and Away (a total of 30 games in A and B played over 10 ’rounds’ or a max of 10 weeks).
  • Teams in Division-C play each other once and 4 of the teams again (schedule constructed in much the same way as the IPL-4 schedule was constructed) thereby resulting in a total of 39 games in C played over 10 ’rounds’ or a max of 10 weeks.
  • Teams in Division-D play each other once and 3 of the teams again (schedule constructed in much the same way as the IPL-4 schedule was constructed) thereby resulting in a total of 46 games in D played over 10 ’rounds’ or a max of 10 weeks.
  • The top 4 teams from Division-A (A1, A2, A3, A4) play for the Ranji Division-A Finals in an AFL-style (IPL-style) finals series where the winner of the league stage gets two bites of the cherry to appear in the Ranji-A finals.
  • A5, A6, B1 and B2 play an elimination-style B-Finals series to decide: (a) The Ranji Division-B Winner and Ranji Division-B runner-up. These two teams will be A5 and A6 in the next year’s Ranji Trophy. The losers play in Division-B for the next season.
  • B5, B6, C1 and C2 play an elimination-style C-Finals series to decide (a) The Ranji Division-C Winner and Ranji Division-C runner up. These two teams will be B5 and B6 in the next year’s Ranji Trophy. The losers play in Division-C for the next season.
  • C6, C7, D1 and D2 play an elimination-style D-Finals series to decide (a) The Ranji Division-D Winner and Ranji Division-D runner up. These two teams will be C6 and C7 in the next year’s Ranji Trophy. The losers play in Division-D for the next season.

In the above format, each team plays the same number of games in the league stage. The league games happen over 10 rounds and the finals series for all four Divisions would involve 3 games (or 3 rounds). So, the overall competition would take 13 rounds or just under 3 months. In the model that I have suggested above, as many as 16 of the 27 teams are involved in the knockout phase of the competition. This retains interest in the competition. This continues the engagement and interest in the results. And the relegation/promotion battles ensure that there are result-oriented matches.

Yes, this makes the Ranji Trophy last a bit longer. But, in my view, this would add to the flavour of competition – particularly in the A and B Divisions.

The best players need to bubble through the system from the best teams. A (limited and controlled) free auto loan calculator movement of players between teams will ensure that we see the best players play for the best teams. The Ranji Trophy should be about the best players being identified, nurtured and prepared. The suggestion made above has a greater chance of identifying such talent than the proposal that is currently on the table.

I would like to see the Irani Trophy, Deodhar Trophy and the Corporate Cup scrapped. These serve no real purpose in my view. In its place, if the format suggested above is adopted, at the end of the season, each Division selects its best players. Players from Division-A, Division-B, Division-C and Division-D teams (respectively) could play a revamped Duleep Trophy; one without ‘zones’. The same 4 teams could play a revamped Challenger Trophy too with teams named Division-A, Division-B, Division-C and Division-D (instead of red, blue, green and yellow).

And that would be it. Oh yes! And I would scrap the IPL too…

— Mohan (@mohank)

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Irani Trophy and Challengers

The teams for the Irani Trophy and the Challenger Trophy, the traditional curtain-raisers for the cricket season in India, have been announced. By and large, the teams are good and sound in what is expected to be a good season in India; one in which several Team India stars are expected to turn out, somewhat unexpectedly, for their home states.

Irani Trophy

The Rest of India team features two Team India players who are on their comeback from injury: Virender Sehwag and Sree Santh. Zaheer Khan is still on the mend and so it appears as though it will be a while yet before we see him in action for India.

Cheteshwar Pujara is another notable absentee. He had an amazing run in last years’ Ranji Trophy and went onto the injury bench just prior to this year’s IPL. He misses out because he he is till injured.

A notable and exciting inclusion is young TN opener, Abhinav Mukund, who gets a call on the back of a successful Ranji season. He may not play, given the presence of M. Vijay and Virender Sehwag as openers. However, this is a step in the right direction for this young left-hander.

Two notable exclusions are Parhiv Patel and Mohammed Kaif! The former has been edged out by the exciting talents of Wriddhiman Saha and the 22-year old, Punjab ‘keeper, Uday Kaul. However, this non-selection must come as a rude shock for Mohammed Kaif in both the Irani game as well as the 3 Challenger teams! Remember that Mohammed Kaif is a contracted Team India player! This non-selection, on the back of the fact that he did not get selected for the Rajasthan Royals in this year’s IPL, must be a blow to the young man, who must wonder where his career is at.

Kaif has probably been edged out by 24-year old Pune batsman, Kedar Jadhav. Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel get a chance to reconstruct their Team India prospects through this Irani game.

I expect the following Rest of India (probable team):

M. Vijay / Abhinav Mukund
Virender Sehwag
Virat Kohli
S Badrinath
Manoj Tiwary / Kedar Jadhav
Ravindra Jadeja
Wriddhiman Saha / Uday Kaul
Irfan Pathan
S Sreesanth / Sudeep Tyagi
Munaf Patel
Pragyan Ojha

The Mumbai team for the Irani Trophy sports a healthy look under the leadership of Wasim Jaffer and with the presence of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. Prashant Naik gets a look in given that Amol Muzumdar has moved in the off-season to Assam! The probable Mumbai Team is:

Wasim Jaffer
Sahil Kukreja
Ajinkya Rahane
Rohit Sharma
Prashant Naik
Vinayak Samant / Sushant Marathe
Ajit Agarkar
Ramesh Powar
Dhawal Kulkarni
Rahil Shaikh / Murtuza Hussain / Saurabh Netravalkar
OJ Khanvilkar / Iqbal Abdulla

This should be a cracker of a contest and should set the scene for the rest of the India season.

Challenger Trophy:

The Challenger Trophy squads:

India Red:
M Vijay
Sunny Sohal
Shikhar Dhawan
Yuvraj Singh (capt.)
Saurabh Tiwary / Harshad Khadiwale
Ravindra Jadeja
Wriddhiman Saha (wk)
R Ashwin / Ishank Jaggi
Sudeep Tyagi / Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Munaf Patel
Ishant Sharma

India Green:
Parthiv Patel / Uday Kaul (wk)
Tanmay Srivastava
Ajinkya Rahane
Suresh Raina (capt.)
S Badrinath
Manoj Tiwary / Ravi Inder Singh
Irfan Pathan
L Balaji
Dhawal Kulkarni
Pankaj Singh
Chetanya Nanda / Sadab Jakati

India Blue:
Sachin Tendulkar
Wasim Jaffer
MS Dhoni (capt.)
Naman Ojha
Kedar Jadhav / Dhiraj Goswami
Abhishek Nayar
Yusuf Pathan / Jalaj Saxena
Harbhajan Singh
Siddharth Trivedi
Sreesanth
Ashok Dinda / Suresh Kumar

A few surprises here. First, while it is nice to see Suresh Raina’s elevation to captaincy, is it a bit too early for him? Does he really have captaincy material? Second, it is interesting to note that, as I have pointed out before, Mohammed Kaif can’t find a place amongst the best 42 players in the land! Mind you, this set of 42 players does not include players from The Bangalore Royal Challengers players (like Robin Uthappa, Praveen Kumar and Rahul Dravid) and The Deccan Chargers players (like V. V. S. Laxman, R. P. Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Rohit Sharma, Tirumalasetti Suman and Venugopal Rao) who are playing in the Challengers because the Champions League will be on at the same time as The Challengers. This means that Mohammed Kaif is not amongst the 51 best ODI players in the land? And he still carries a central contract? Baffling…

The teams look well balanced and will be a nice selection platform for the endless series of ODIs against Australia.

— Mohan

Letting out some steam…

Rested

What is with the term “rested”? This word must classify as the biggest  euphemism in Indian cricket. Why don’t the selectors say exactly what the intention was? Are they trying to not offend the seniors in the team by saying that they were rested and not dropped?? I am sure Dravid is pleased that he was actually rested and not dropped.

Team selection

Ok. I don’t even want to get started on this. It’s not that the team selection has been bad. It is the lack of planning and policy in picking the team.  No offence to Pravin Kumar and Sehwag (..and I want them to succeed badly) – but there were better choices out there based on current form.

Dropping Dravid from the team

I don’t have any problems with the selectors dropping Dravid from the ODI team. In fact, Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly should be “rested” (if I may use the word) from the ODI team so that they can prolong their career in Test cricket. And I am not alone in this (based on various other comments that we have received in this blog). What I am pissed off is the fact that they unceremoniously dumped Dravid without any long term plan or strategy. If they wanted him to get some match practice then why did they not pick him for the Challenger Trophy?

Challenger Trophy

This is supposed to be the tournament that pits the best cricketers in India against each other. Instead what do we have? All the big names are being “rested” and we are left with the second rung of cricketers fighting each other out. Now if I was a selector, I would certainly like to know how Ojha and the likes bowl to Tendulkar, Dravid or Dhoni. Or how Praveen Kumar faces up to Zaheer, Sreesanth or RP. But then, I am no selector…If I was one, I would have also waited till the finals of the trophy before I announced the team.

Picking a coach

Just look around. Every team that has been searching for a coach has found one. And India, the biggest cash cow as far as cricket is concerned can’t seem to find one. Sigh! Is it the incompetence of the people who are trying to hire? Or are there no real people out there willing to take on the challenge of coaching a team like India?

Test captaincy

The selectors want to watch Dhoni’s captaincy for a while longer before taking a decision on the Test captaincy. How long? For another 2 games! Huh?  I don’t know about you, but I just don’t get it. If you haven’t made up your decision by now, I don’t know how an additional two games is going to help you.

-Mahesh-

Challengers 2007: India Blues Vs India Red

In this first match of the series, India Blues won by a whisker. The good performers in the game were Suresh Raina and Joginder Sharma for the Blues. For the Reds, Praveen Kumar bowled and batted well. S. Badrinath, Mohammed Kaif and ‘keeper M. Rawat batted well. However, their efforts were not enough to get them across the line. Gautam Gambhir (run out by Sehwag!), Virender Sehwag (out for 9) and Dinesh Kartik (out first ball to Praveen Kumar) had ordinary days in the office! But it was Suresh Raina’s 92 that helped India Blues reach a respectable total especially after his team was 41 for 4 after Sehwag won the toss and chose to bat (strange decision) on a sticky wicket and with the prospect of dew while bowling/fielding!

— Mohan

Ps: And in a totally unrelated development, and apropos of absolutely nothing, M. S. Dhoni has had a hair cut. It has sent the Indian media into a tizz!

The India ODI team I’d like to see for the games against Pakistan

As I mentioned in an earlier post, keeping in mind the hectic schedule that is on the cards for Team India over the next 6 months and given the importance of the flagship series against Pakistan and Australia coming up, it would be best if the selectors rested Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid from ODI duties for the series against Pakistan. That is probably the best thing that can happen for Indian cricket right now provided the alternative is sensible — and this could be tested out somewhat in the Challenger Series that starts tomorrow (25th Oct 2007) at Ahmedabad.

By skipping the Pakistan ODIs that go from 5 November to 18 November, Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly would be fresh for the Tests against Pakistan that commence 22 Nov. Dravid, Ganguly and Tendulkar should turn out Karnataka, West Bengal and Mumbai (respectively). Mumbai plays Karnataka and Bengal plays Hyderabad in the first games of the Ranjis this year! They would be handy matches for the Big-3! In the second round that starts 15 November, although Karnataka has an easy outing against Himachal Pradesh, Bengal plays Baroda and Mumbai plays Tamil Nadu.

Provided the Big-3 get asked to play the Ranji games, following is the ODI team I’d like to see for Team India against Pakistan:

Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
Robin Uthappa
Yuvraj Singh (vice-captain)
Rohit Sharma / S. Badrinath / Suresh Raina / Manoj Tiwary / Mohammed Kaif [2 of these 5]
M. S. Dhoni
Praveen Kumar / Yusuf Pathan / Joginder Sharma [2 of these 3]
Irfan Pathan
Harbhajan Singh / Murali Kartik / Piyush Chawla [2 of these 3]
Sreesanth
Zaheer Khan / R. P. Singh

Views/comments?

— Mohan

Challenger Series…

The Challenger Series starts tomorrow (October 25 2007) in Ahmedabad. It will run for 4 days with the Final to be played on October 28th at the same venue.

It is a flagship ODI tournament for the N. K. P. Salve Cup and, coming on the heels of the Irani Trophy, signifies the curtain raiser for the domestic season. It has also been the platform for many an impressive showing. Suresh Raina and Piyush Chawla were already good young players when they played the Challengers in the last few years. But their performances in the Challengers shot them into the national conscience — and national team selection.

Siddhartha Vaidhyanathan talks of some strange exclusions and inclusions in this years’ episode in his Cricinfo piece.

Big-name players like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh, Irfan Pathan, are not playing. And now, with Piyush Chawla having recovered, Murali Kartik has also been rested! Why? He has only played a handful of games in the last few weeks. Why should Kartik not play on in the Challengers? I just don’t get it. I’d have thought that more time in the middle merely serves to augment match-fitness and match-readiness, especially for a spinner!

I have already mentioned in an earlier post that I find it strange that R. P. Singh, Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan are not playing. Yes, the road ahead is littered with matches, but it is not likely that R. P. Singh and Sreesanth will play all of those games and Irfan Pathan is only now getting into a solid rhythm and momentum. In my view, they should have played this series. It is also strange, albeit understandable, that V. V. S. Laxman does not figure. Another strange exclusion is V. R. V. Singh.

As Siddhartha Vaidhyanathan says, the galling feature is the dominance of the West Zone players. Simultanesouly, the absence of players from Rajasthan (finalists in the Ranji ODI Championship last year) apart from Pankaj Singh and Karnataka (quarter-finalists in the Ranji ODI Championship) is quite galling. I’d have thought that at least Shailender Gehlot (Rajasthan) and Barrington Rowland (Karnataka) would have had a look in. This is particularly so in light of some strange inclusions, like Siddharth Trivedi. The case of Satyajit Sathbai’s inclusion makes good comic material even by BCCI standards! Initially, it seems Satyajit Parab’s name was announced. A day later, it was retracted and another Satyajit’s name was included — this time, the right one… Sathbai. But even his inclusion reads silly. I can’t see what Sathbai has done to warrant inclusion in the team! Tanmay Srivatsa, Pradeep Sangwan, M. Vijay, C. Raghu, B. Akhil and J. Arunkumar are others that can feel quite miffed at being left out.

And the name Yadav is apparently worth quite a bit in Indian cricket these days! Young lans will not be blamed for queueing up at magistrates courts across the land to change their surname to Yadav!!

With a growing expectation that the Big 3 will be rested for the Pakistan ODIs, the time is ripe for the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Mohammed Kaif, S. Badrinath, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, and Manoj Tiwary to make a strong statement or two.

It will also present an opportunity for Munaf Patel to redeem himself in the eyes of the selectors. Yo Mahesh should grab this opportunity too.

I expect Yusuf Pathan, Praveen Kumar, Joginder Sharma and Pankaj Singh to emerge strongly from this though. This is a wonderful opportunity for these players to make their cases and emerge to give confidence to the selectors that they can address team-balance with these sorts of players. Having said that, Pankaj Singh is less of a batsman than Pathan, Kumar or Sharma. A dark horse in the team-balance stakes with bits-and-pieces players could be Abhishek Nayar. He is a first-change media-fast bowler for Mumbai and is in terrific form for Mumbai (back-to-back centuries against Karachi Blues and RoI).

I know I have been talking up Praveen Kumar quite a bit over the last year or so. I really do expect this lad to be a part of India’s ODI plans for the future. A strong showing here may even propel him into the Pakistan ODI series. It is a chance that he has to grab with both hands.

India Red:
Mohammad Kaif (capt), Karan Goel, Gautam Gambhir, Subramaniam Badrinath, Virat Kohli, Ravneet Ricky, Praveen Kumar, Mahesh Rawat (wk), Pragyan Ojha, Siddharth Trivedi, Ishant Sharma, Pinal Shah, Shrikant Munde, Paresh Patel.
Coach: Lalchand Rajput

India Blue:
Virender Sehwag (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Suresh Raina, Niraj Patel, Arjun Yadav, Joginder Sharma, Ramesh Powar, Amit Mishra, Yo Mahesh, Ranadeb Bose, Swapnil Asnodkar, Rakesh Dhurv, Saurabh Bandekar
Coach: Venkatesh Prasad

India Green:
Parthiv Patel (capt/wk), Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Murali Kartik, Manoj Tiwary, Yusuf Pathan, Abhishek Nayar, Niranjan Behera, Iqbal Abdulla, Pankaj Singh, Munaf Patel, Gagandeep Singh, Srikkanth Anirudha, Satyajit Satbhai.
Coach: Praveen Amre

The series schedule is:
Oct 25: India Red v/s India Blue
Oct 26: India Green v/s India Red
Oct 27: India Green v/s India Blue
Oct 28: Final

— Mohan