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Ranji Trophy: Fog, harsh winter playing spoilsport in North India

Veteran BCCI administrator Ratnakar Shetty says the board should implement the Sunil Gavaskar-led technical committee’s recommendation given a decade ago and not host any First-Class matches in the northern part of the country from December 15 to January 15.

Screenshot 2024 01 23 032047The Hostel Ground in Jammu hosted two games in the ongoing Ranji Trophy. In eight days, only 107.3 overs were bowled due to poor visibility. In the second round game between Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi, only two overs of play were possible on the first three days.

Jammu and Kashmir is not the only home side suffering due to the fog that has affected visibility. In the first-round match between Haryana and Rajasthan at Lahli, only 42 overs were possible. At the Sector 16 Cricket Stadium in Chandigarh, only 159.3 overs were bowled in the first round game against Railways, while only 26 overs of play were possible in the third round match played between Chandigarh and Gujarat.

At the end of the third round, thirteen matches in venues including Delhi, Jammu, Mohali, Chandigarh, Meerut and Kanpur were affected due to poor weather and there have been days where not a single ball was bowled.

Veteran BCCI administrator Ratnakar Shetty says that Sunil Gavaskar, when he was chairman of the BCCI’s technical committee, had recommended not to organise Ranji Trophy matches in north and some parts of central India during peak winter when visibility is likely to be poor and matches weather-affected.

“Because of the reason itself, the matches were not getting completed. In some venues even the first innings were not completed, in some places cricket was possible only on one day. When Sunil Gavaskar was the chairman of the BCCI’s technical committee, he recommended to the board that between December 15 and January 15, there should not be any games played in North Zone, Uttar Pradesh and parts of Central Zone. It was to ensure the matches were not affected due to fog. We had implemented that in the best possible manner,” Shetty told The Indian Express.

A BCCI curator lambasted the BCCI’s schedule during the North Indian winter.

“There is no point hosting Ranji Trophy matches at this time of the year (January). Matches will never start on time and they will end early as well due to bad light. The teams from north must play all their away matches during the first three weeks of January,” the BCCI curator said.

Chandigarh’s Ranji Trophy coach Sunil Saggi has questioned BCCI’s attitude towards the country’s premier cricket tournament as scheduling the matches in this month takes away the home advantage.

“We have almost lost three days against Gujarat due to poor visibility. We have been at the receiving end,” Saggi said.

“Earlier, Ranji Trophy used to start from mid-October, then only one or two games were getting affected but now especially this season, you see there is hardly a result in matches played in the north. I have been associated with the coaching for the last 25 years and in my opinion first-class cricket is not anymore the priority of the board. White-ball tournaments have been given priority because of the IPL. I feel both Vijay Hazare and Syed Mushtaq Ali should be played in February and March so that a team can enjoy home advantage in the Ranji Trophy, otherwise there is no point,” Saggi added.

A veteran Ranji Trophy coach said games should be played up north only after January 26.

White-ball tournaments like the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and Vijay Hazare have become talent-spotting opportunities for IPL scouts before the auction. Earlier Ranji Trophy would begin from the first week of October. But with IPL auctions usually scheduled in the last quarter of the year, the BCCI advanced the Syed Mushtaq Ali and Ranji Trophy was pushed further down.

However, Ratnakar Shetty said that the Ranji Trophy is still relevant.

“I don’t agree with this argument that Ranji Trophy is losing its significance. There are people who still want to play Ranji Trophy, States units are also doing their best to ensure that teams play well,” he said.

“Scheduling is something that is normally based on the requirements of international cricket. The number of matches has increased substantially in recent years. Scheduling has become a huge problem. With U-16, U-19, U-23 and Ranji Trophy, multiple days cricket is being played across the age-group and it is not easy to get enough grounds,” he added.

Delhi who were supposed to play their next round (January 26) match against Uttarakhand at Roshanara Club Ground but it has been now shifted to IS Bindra Stadium in Mohali. The iconic Roshanara Club, where the BCCI was formed back in 1928 has been sealed by the DDA (Delhi Development Authority) after its lease expired.

“We don’t have grounds after Roshanara was sealed. Arun Jaitely Stadium will be hosting the CK Nayudu match against Vidarbha from January 28. So, we have requested the PCA and they have agreed to host us,” said a DDCA official.

Interestingly, the matches in Dharamshala and Dehradun were not affected by the weather. Uttarakhand played a draw against Madhya Pradesh, while they lost the second game against Pondicherry by 55 runs. Uttarakhand also defeated Himachal Pradesh in Dharamsala. At the same venue, Baroda drubbed the home side by an innings and 18 runs.

“We have played two games in Dehradun and one in Dharmsala and thankfully weather didn’t affect us. Now we are going to Mohali and let’s see how the weather behaves,” Manish Jha, Uttarakhand coach, said.

Although Pondicherry has registered their first outright win in the elite group in Delhi, the team management was not happy with the playing conditions.

“We arrived in Delhi with an eye on the chill and were well-equipped to tackle it, especially given that the winter temperatures back home don’t go below the mid-twenties, even at night,” an official of the Cricket Association of Pondicherry said. “With the weather like this, the matches should be played at a neutral venue at this time of the year. There is no point wasting time waiting for better weather,” he added.

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