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The new Ranji Trophy format has its flaws

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Ranji_Trophy_India_CricketThe 2018-19 edition of the Ranji Trophy will see the domestic competition going back to its earlier Elite-Plate format as a result of the inclusion of 9 more teams—Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Puducherry, Sikkim, and Uttarakhand—along with the existing 28 teams from the last edition.

Under the reinstalled structure, three groups A, B and C—the first two consisting of nine teams each and the third one having 10 teams—will constitute the Elite groups while Group D, consisting of the newly included nine teams, will form the Plate group. The top five teams combined from Groups A and B, two from Group C and the top team from the plate group will qualify for the knock-outs. So this format gives one of the 9 newly included teams a chance to fight it out amongst the best in the most competitive stage of the tournament at least once every season.

Along with this, the format also has a promotion-relegation system which will see the top Plate-team being promoted to Group C in the following season. The bottom-most team from Group C will be relegated to the Plate group, while the top two teams get promoted to Groups A and B. To keep things balanced, the bottom two teams from Groups A and B get relegated to Group C.

The expansion of the competition to a 37-team format is a welcome move in many ways. Firstly, it will take cricket to the less traversed cricketing areas of the country, helping to bring out untapped talent and potential. It gives the newly inducted teams a chance to gain valuable insights from playing with experienced seniors and veterans of domestic and international cricket. The players will get to develop their skills to compete at the highest level of the tournament.

It also gives the lesser known yet skilled domestic veterans an equal opportunity to showcase their coaching skills by taking on the responsibility of developing these teams. We may even see some players reviving their careers by being a part of these teams. It is often difficult for players to find place in the squads of their respective states, so this format might help by giving them an opportunity to prove their mettle, starting from scratch as one of the first names on the team-sheet for a lesser fancied team.

However, this new format has a number of flaws despite its potential to expand the game across the country.

● The newly drafted format doesn't offer much to the Plate group teams. Apart from giving the top team from that group a shot at the quarter-finals and an Elite group berth in the following season, there is not much on offer for the other eight teams of the group.

There should have been at least two teams qualifying to the elite group in the succeeding season, if not more. If one team ends up winning two or more consecutive matches in a particular season, then the competition ends right there and then as that particular team will already have confirmed a quarter-final berth and subsequently an Elite group berth for the next season. There would be nothing worth fighting for the other eight teams. It's a serious blow to the competitive nature of that particular group.

● The format offers an easy route for the relegated teams in a particular season to make it to the quarter finals in the next season. Imagine the bottom most teams from Group A and B, who might have had an off-season, being relegated to Group C. They will definitely find it easier next year to compete with the other teams in that group and qualify directly for the knock outs.

While there may not be much difference in the skill sets of the Elite group teams, imagine a Group C team relegated to the Plate group and consequently having it much easier next year to make it to the knock out rounds. That's another issue with the new system as it provides an easy route for teams into the knock outs rather than motivating them to perform better in their respective groups.

● There is a serious issue here as far as the pay structure released by the BCCI is concerned. According to the new pay structure, the salary/day for each player making the playing XI of a Ranji match is Rs. 35,000 and Rs. 17,500 for players outside the playing XI.

Within the first 15, the salary is the same irrespective of whether he is a part of an Elite or a Plate group team. This begs the question of why good players would want to struggle their way into the playing XIs of Elite group teams when they have the option of shifting base to Plate group teams and getting picked regularly in the playing XI.

● The new format was released not even three months before the beginning of the tournament. This has left coaches, officials, players and everyone else in a state of chaos in dealing with how to approach this tight schedule. Everyone is scampering now to sort their priorities out at the last minute, rather than having time to adjust smoothly to the transition.

● Last but not least, 5 teams from Groups A and B will be featuring in the knock outs. But what hasn't been specified is the break-up of those five teams. Would it be three from one and two from the other? Will it be solely based on points? Will the total number of victories for the teams be the deciding factor, or will net-run rate come into consideration? Nothing of this sort has been mentioned and this needs to be cleared up soon.

Only time will tell how effective this newly introduced format will to be. Till then, we can only hope for the betterment of the game in the country as a whole.

 

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Prasenjit, a techie by profession and Sports writer by passion, hails from the 'City of Joy'-Kolkat...

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