Photo Credit: Ravi Shankar Vyas/IANS
Pawan Negi, 23, has only played three first-class matches for Delhi, but he is already in line to make his India debut. The all-rounder was named in the squad for the Twenty20 series against Sri Lanka which starts on February 9. Negi’s limited first-class experience did not deter the selectors – what counted were his exploits for the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League.
This is perhaps a sign of the times. In this age of slam-bang cricket accompanied by DJs belting out the latest hits, Test cricket seems more and more of an anomaly. Some of the intrinsic features of the longer form of cricket – the slow build-ups, the test of patience over grandstanding – seem out of place in the modern game. So it would be unwise to fault the selectors for calling up the inexperienced Negi – they are merely keeping up with the times.
Out of place, out of sight
In the background, at a time when most Indian cricket fans are looking forward to Twenty20 action scattered over the next couple of months, the quarter-final stage of the Ranji Trophy got underway on Wednesday. The eight teams still fighting it out in one of India’s oldest domestic cricket tournaments will be painfully aware that most fans are more excited about this weekend, when the player auction for the forthcoming season of the Indian Premier League will take place.
The Ranji Trophy couldn’t be more different from the IPL. There are neither DJs exhorting crowds to cheer nor excited commentators. On most occasions, India’s premier domestic tournament is played in front of empty, yawning stadiums with the odd security guard keeping score. A few hundred fans troop in on the rare occasions that an international cricketer deigns to turn out for his domestic side.
Nowadays, Ranji Trophy matches only attract attention when something untoward happens. For instance, the Delhi-Bengal match in October made the headlines only because of a verbal spat between captains Manoj Tiwary and Gautam Gambhir. There wasn’t much press about the fact that the teams had played out an absorbing game of cricket.
Singular lack of context
The Ranji Trophy currently suffers from glaring lack of context, which sounds rather absurd given that the IPL last only two months but enjoys top-of-the-mind recall, while Ranji teams play for most of the year but remain relatively unknown.
Yet, there are compelling stories to be found in the dusty world of Indian first class cricket. This season, for instance, has witnessed the rise of Assam, an underdog story to rival the best. Languishing in the bottom reaches of the Indian domestic system for years, Assam have arrived on the big stage this season, challenging giants such as Karnataka and Rajasthan.
The current state of the Ranji Trophy perhaps highlights the bigger story of Test cricket in the country. India may love its cricket but it increasingly seems to care less for the longer version of the game, as evidenced by the falling attendances in Test matches held in the country. Fans are voting with their feet and if international Test matches get lower attendances than domestic IPL games, the writing is on the wall. The Ranji Trophy may be the grand old tournament of India, but a day does not look far off when it may be consigned to mere folklore.