Is it time to scrap Ranji Trophy, or re-invent the wheel?

The IPL-first attitude of Ishan Kishan, Shreyas Iyer reopens an old debate

Shreyas Iyer (left) and Ishan Kishan are reportedly in trouble for not playing the Ranji Trophy (photo: @ImTanujSingh/X)
Shreyas Iyer (left) and Ishan Kishan are reportedly in trouble for not playing the Ranji Trophy (photo: @ImTanujSingh/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It seems that the Ranji Trophy, the symbol of supremacy in red-ball cricket in India which historically produces the assembly line of talent, is in the news for the wrong reasons lately. Bengal stalwart Manoj Tiwary, who retired last week, was docked 20 per cent of his match fees for saying Ranji should be ‘scrapped’ from the BCCI calendar in 2025, while India’s young Turks Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer seem to have pushed their luck too far by snubbing their state engagements.

Tiwary, a former international with 10,000-plus runs in first class cricket, wrote on his X handle: ‘’Ranji Trophy should be scrapped off from the calendar from the next season onwards. So many things going wrong with the tournament. So many things need to looked into in order to save this prestigious tournament which has a rich history. It’s losing its charm and importance. Absolutely frustrated.’’

There could be a debate if his take on Ranji was over the top, but the recent examples set by Ishan and Shreyas — with both shunning their state duties to keep themselves ready for the IPL — begs the question if Ranji has begun losing relevance. A red-faced BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) has come out with a diktat that players who are fit and not on international duty must play a certain number of Ranji matches to be able to play for their respective franchises.

A decision which may look well-meaning, but is knee-jerk at best. While the BCCI is within its rights to ask its centrally contracted players to prove themselves in domestic cricket to be considered for international cricket, the franchises are under no compulsion to follow such guidelines. There is no logical reason to equate the readiness for a T20 franchise with performance in the more demanding, four-day red ball Ranji fixtures.

‘’I can see young players adopting an IPL-centric mindset,’’ Tiwary said during a felicitation earlier this week. No prizes for guessing that he was alluding to both Ishan and Shreyas, the former being the more brazen of the two as he repeatedly turned a deaf ear to national chief coach Rahul Dravid’s directive and skipped all of his state Jharkhand’s six league matches, preferring to start conditioning training with the Pandya brothers in Baroda.

The young wicketkeeper-batter, who has a lucrative contract with Mumbai Indians and will be playing under Hardik Pandya’s captaincy this season, has given enough signals as to where his priorities lie, as he is now scheduled to return to competitive cricket in an institutional T20 tournament.

The scenario is a little different with Shreyas, who was part of the Test squad in the first two games of the ongoing series against England. Dropped after failing to capitalise on a few good starts, Shreyas was released and asked to join the Mumbai squad for the Ranji knockout stages but pulled out citing a back spasm.

However, the buzz is that BCCI physio Nitin Patel has ruled him fit for competitive cricket, leading to speculation about the Kolkata Knight Riders captain being reluctant to take a chance with his fitness a month ahead of the IPL. There are suggestions that even the KKR management is party to the plan, since their batting line-up suffered throughout the 2023 season owing to his absence.

Where does that leave the Ranji Trophy? Speaking to National Herald, Arun Lal, former India opener and a colossus in domestic cricket, feels that such cases are still exceptions, but also inevitable as a sign of the changing times.

"The only way to counter this is to enhance the stature of the Ranji. I have always been a great fan of Ranji and to be fair to the BCCI, they have done a lot in terms of increasing the fee structure of the players, but the reality is that youngsters would rather play IPL today than come up through the Ranji grind to make it to the national team. Ranji should be a financially attractive proposition to woo them too.’’

Lal also feels the BCCI diktat of making it compulsory for players to play a number of Ranji matches in order to play the IPL is not really tenable. ‘’If any player comes up tomorrow to say he has fashioned himself as a white-ball cricketer and can only play the Vijay Hazare Trophy (50 overs) and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (20 overs), can you stop them? The money is so big in IPL these days that some of these players may even take premature retirement from red-ball cricket if you push them,’’ he said.

For someone like Faiz Fazal, who led Vidarbha to the Ranji crown and was a prolific scorer for them before his retirement this season, the BCCI directive is the only way out. ‘’The compulsory appearance is the only way out, or else there will be a tendency on the part of Gen-X players to seek excuses to get out. Indian cricket cannot do without this tournament with such a rich history,’’ Fazal said.

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