A vital decision could be taken at the inaugural BCCI conclave in Dharamsala on Friday regarding the ongoing debate, whether all Ranji Trophy matches should be organized at neutral venues.
Board’s technical committee, led by former India skipper Sourav Ganguly, had proposed the move as a quick solution for the long-standing problem of home teams taking the advantage of tailor-made wickets and “to expose players to play in different conditions.”
But it doesn’t look to be as simple as that. The players, coaches, groundsmen and even state administrators; all believe the longstanding system of playing matches home and away basis should not be altered.
“The interest within home teams and getting crowds to come and watch the game is going to diminish, obviously,” Karnataka batsman Robin Uthappa feels, “it’s not like the numbers are very big to start off with anyway, but the interest was growing in domestic cricket. I think this will kind of pull it back a little bit because how many guys are going to watch a Karnataka-Tamil Nadu game in Mumbai?”
Amol Muzumdar, the second-highest runscorer in the Ranji history and a former Mumbai captain, agreed to point. “You need to pull in the crowds. You need a [Cheteshwar] Pujara playing in Saurashtra to come and watch him and have youngsters dream of playing for India one day. Youngsters would want to come and watch Rohit Sharma in Mumbai. They won’t come to watch in Guwahati. And for what? For those guys who are greedy for the spots [in the points table], who make bad wickets so that it suits the home team? For those guys, you are denying fans coming to the grounds?”
Tamil Nadu Cricket Association secretary KS Viswanathan has even raised the question, are there enough neutral venues in India to organize first-class matches. “You need to define what is neutral,” he further reacted. “You cannot play in nine centers [of the teams in the same group]. If I have Mumbai and Delhi in my group, for instance, I can’t play there. Have you got those kinds of [alternate] venues with [quality] facilities? All these things they [the board] are trying are experimental. We will put forth our views, but it is up to them.”
Viswanathan is also not so sure about the suggestion that this revolutionary change would guarantee sporting pitches in future. “How do you ensure all these neutral venues will have sporting wickets? Wickets are actually controlled by [state] associations, not by BCCI,” he said. “Basically, BCCI curators can’t come and prepare wickets. Consistently preparing wickets is not that easy.”
Uncertainty looks to be a dominant theme in this ongoing debate but there are some positive signs too. “It (neutral venues) gives cricketers an opportunity to play in different conditions which are not home conditions,” Uthappa said. “In that sense, there is an opportunity to grow for cricketers.”
Meanwhile, the push for neutral venues in Ranji Trophy has been backed by the BCCI president Anurag Thakur as well. It is believed that new board president had been to some extent peeved after his home state Himachal Pradesh took a beating on turning wickets last season.
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