I?m surpised we are not having a ?Challenger Trophy? before selection of the Indian team for the World Cup. For, of late, the BCCI practice before any big tour or tournament has been to have this mindless tournament, named after yet another of those politician-administrators N K P Salve. A tournament where the ?India Seniors? team takes on the supposed second and third string teams, with the intention of providing the 33 best players in the country a chance to show their mettle.
In my opinion, the whole premise of this tournament is flawed. For a start, the national selectors select all three teams, and randomly distribute players among the teams. This means that each time there will be a certain set of players under the radar of the national selectors, and only they are given a chance to perform. Say, if a player is playing really well for Tripura, and Ranjib Biswal (the East Zone selector) doesn?t care to watch Tripura?s games, this player?s career is doomed.
The second problem with the tournament format is the division of players into the three teams. Usually two senior players are picked out of the senior squad to lead the A and B teams, and while announcing the teams, selectors are creating a clear seeding system amongst the teams, and communicates to the players on view that some of them are more equal than others. Also, this leads to a few hopelessly lop-sided matches (though India A regularly beats India Seniors, India B end up getting badly mauled every time).
Thirdly, the format of the tournament is also flawed – with four matches scheduled for four days, sometimes a situation arises that a team has to play three matches in three days, thus ensuring it?s players can?t perform to their potential in the final. Even otherwise, it?s too much exhaustion.
The fourth, and most important problem with the Challenger is that there are absolutely no loyalties – neither among the players nor among the spectators. A player knows that the Challenger is primarily meant to be the basis for selection, and hence plays for himself – the team be damned. This leads to a drop in quality of performances and also prevents the five wise men from testing a player?s commitment, teamwork, etc. The impact on spectators are also significant – the absence of any team loyalty means that you simply go there to watch individual players perform, and this results in massive reduction of spectator interest.
Do you remember a tournament called the Deodhar Trophy? For those who don?t, it is the inter-zonal limited overs tournament. It used to be a major event when I first started following domestic cricket (around 15 years back), with the high point being the presentation of the trophy by the Late D B Deodhar (yes, the tourney was named after him when he was alive) to the winning captain. Those days, it used to be scheduled to enable national team players to take part, and gave rise to some pretty good performances and games.
Why can?t we replace the Challenger with the Deodhar? Have it once a season, and at a time when National Players are available to represent their zones. For a start, there will be five fairly strong (and well-matched) teams. Puts fifty five odd players on display as against the thirty three odd for challenger. Gives a chance to the older players who excel in domestic cricket to show their wares (such people are usually excluded from the Challenger). With zonal selectors selecting the teams, players from the plate states won?t go un-noticed and will play a part.
Most importantly, there will be loyalties. Players will be playing for their zones for what was once a prestigious trophy. For their zones. And beside players they have grown up playing with. And are most likely to play for their teams, rather than for themselves. Will raise the quality of the game by a few notches.
From the spectator point of view also it is better. Now it is easier for you to choose a team to support. The teams are more balanced. And it is more competitive. With day-night matches and colored clothing etc. it should serve up a treat! And bring in the much-needed crowds into domestic cricket.
There will also be those little little battles. For example, we might get to see Laxman and Dravid testing their mettle against Zaheer, Agarkar and Munaf. Or Sehwag and Gambhir and Chopra take on the firepower of Bose and Mohanty. Should definitely bring in some revenue for Neo Sports
Of course there do exist a couple of roadblocks. Firstly, with five zones, we need to come up with a tournament format which won?t last for more than ten days, and not exhaust the players before the tour. Next, we need to find a slot for this in the annual calendar and make sure that all the National Team players take part. Thirdly, what happens to Shri N K P Salve, the great politician-administrator? Getting rid of the challenger means one less tournament which can be named after a politician. A solution for this would be to name the stadium in Nagpur after him (it is a test venue and still unnamed, and unimaginatively called ?vidharbha cricket association ground?).
Is anyone in the BCCI listening?
Also posted in Critics Corner here.