5 POINTS TO REVAMP RANJI TROPHY

WHAT AILS RANJI TROPHY AS A SPORTS PRODUCT
• Too many teams, some of whom remain suspect to be even called first class teams.
• The doing away of the zonal system has made regional rivalries extinct. An emotive, symbolic, geographic or historic context is extremely important for generating buzz for a sporting contest. This is akin to a brand positioning exercise undertaken for a physical product in any sphere of FMCG business!
• Lack of any kind of performance incentive for the state associations; whose main purpose seems to be implement operational expenditure from the annual booty received from BCCI.
• 27 teams is far too much quantity vis a vis quality situation, especially for the longer format of the game, which is an ultimate test of talent for a cricketer.

Point 1: Return back to zonal format
Unfortunately since the advent of the IPL ,Indian sports administrators have been heavily influenced by the EPL format which works for a geographically small country like England. India should adapt the American regional conference system followed by a national play offs, with the top qualifying team from each zone for the national play off. That is Ranji becomes a national play off tournament, with the top team from each of the five zones competing for top honors. India ‘s geographical size makes it prudent that we follow the American system rather than the British one! This will reduce operational and logistical costs and reinvigorate old rivalries; after all a Baroda V Gujarat or Saurashtra, offers more than a Baroda V Karnataka match. Same holds true for a Mumbai Vs Maharastra & Vidarbha Vs Madhya Pradesh contest.

Point 2 Define each zonal conference as a separate competition eventually leading to national PLAYOFFS ( ranji trophy )
1. Every zonal competition should be defined as a semifinal stage for the great national play offs between winners of every zonal competition.
2. Each competition can have a trophy named after a legendary former player from the Zone. For Eg Kapil Cup for North Zone , Gavaskar Cup for West Zone, et al
3. These tournaments will be classified as first class matches.
4. Every zonal competition should have a general manager (former international cricketer of repute) ,with a dedicated team of sub heads for marketing-branding, cricket operations, & revenue generation.

Point 3: Every General Manager should be accountable for the overall health of his zonal competition
This should be a high profile job held by a cricketer of high repute. He should be given the freedom to operate and innovate under a fixed guideline set by the board. Annual review is a must where he will be accountable for standard of performance, revenue generation and public interest of his league within his geographical area.

Point 4 Every Zonal tournament should invite separate broadcast bids with annual renewal dictated by a free market economy
This will unearth the true value of Indian cricket. Ideally encourage separate broadcasters for each competition, which will increase involvement of broadcaster and keep them on their toes in terms of quality broadcast. The revenue generation too will be many fold as compared to present numbers. It is almost akin to the splitting of reliance between the two brothers which unlocked hidden value in group companies for the shareholders.

Point 5: Introduce 5 additional private teams (one per zone) for Each Zonal competition, having an equal chance as any other team within its Zone to qualify for the national playoffs
Now this may sound radical, especially for those who presently control the sport! However private enterprise is the Phillip needed by state associations for improving their management of the sport at the state level. A franchisee fee must be charged, proceeds of which should go towards grassroots development. It is just fine to see a reliance team compete with Mumbai for a top slot in the west zone c or a Bharti team challenging Delhi in the north zone. This will also help talented players of ill managed or politically troubled teams like Rajasthan and J & K to join a private enterprise, where their talent can be best recognized. I strongly believe that the main objective of state associations should be grass root cricket development, first class competition is just a byproduct of their work at the grass roots and junior cricket.
Feedback most awaited

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India needs a ‘la-kolpak’ kind treaty in the subcontinent for IPL!

They say sports imitates life &politics , therefore arises the thought -the  Indian prime minister Narendra Modi started his much anticipated journey as PM, by inviting the leaders of neighboring  SARC for his swearing in ceremony ! What it did was that it  & showed the world the historic ties of this region and at the same time opportunity to explore the  economic potential of the region as a whole ! What it showed was a statesman like approach to the start of his legacy as a PM. Now in the world of cricket, the BCCI is bestowed this power and influence of being the statesman, ICC notwithstanding!

As a statesman cricket body, the BCCI needs to strategize, innovate and take its iconic brands like the IPL and Ranji trophy to greater heights.   It has to explore the potential for its domestic cricket properties and not rest on its existing laurels at the FTP calendar and ICC events. For a broad dynamic vision for its domestic cricket properties, BCCI needs to identify the current situation (lacunae & potential both), and make the properties more robust.  What ails the Ranji & deodhar trophy and remedies for the same were covered in my last blog. Let us focus on IPL in this write up!

IPL problems and remedial policy action for same :

Most lucrative league, but depleted international pool: Despite being the best and most lucrative league, IPL excludes a significantly large portion of talented & ideal subcontinent players for its IPL from Sri Lanka and Pakistan; owing to either the concerned nations’ international commitment or geo political reasons.

Irrational star Salaries: Numbers of teams have shrunk and star players remuneration has spiraled beyond commercial and cricketing logic. Especially the Indian talent where unlike the international talent pool quality supply is limited!  This astronomical price for a select few, has had a negative effect on remuneration of other domestic talents or their remaining unsold in the auctions!

Treat Pakistani players as professional individuals irrespective of their nationality: Some of the fast bowling talents emerge from Pakistan! Their inclusion will enrich the league, making the fundamental factor of cricket (test between bat & ball) stronger. Don’t evaluate the option of including the Pakistani players on basis of their nation of origin. Determine their inclusion on merit of professional skills. I have always felt if we can import pulses and onion from Pakistan why not its magnificent fast bowling talent for a commercial entity like IPL!  What this would do is also bring about a correction in player prices at the auctions which has skyrocketed beyond cricketing and commercial logic, despite the spending cap.

Problematic condensed duration of the IPL needs to be addressed: The league in its formation has been condensed and tightly packed! Despite the dynamics of IPL being a league it operates as a one off event! If not for the dynamics of the auction and high profile team owners, the IPL in its duration and shrunk format would seem like a version 2.0 of sharjah cricket.

Around the world and even in India a league sport operates on duration of 8 months! It is nothing short of a miracle that IPL registers in the public mind despite having operations for not more than 2 ½ months in an annual year. Imagine where an EPL or La liga would be if it was 2 months in duration!

One solution lies in integrating the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament into the IPL, as a preceding ‘IPL domestic’s’ tournament, to the premiere tournament in its present avatar.

The genesis of the condensed format problem lies in the fact that, LKM & team, could not get an exclusive window from the traditional FTP calendar; which formed the basis on international cricket in pre IPL days!  Therefore they did what was best at that point of time.  But with its present growth and potential IPL, is best suited to increase its duration and rotate its players based on their availability, at the same time not harming the FTP calendar.

Every Indian player must be allowed to exit his IPL team for International duties and return post that; something done with European football and its galaxy of international stars, who also ply their trade for their national teams.  So a kolhi may be available for RCB for 2 months while a Dhoni may be available for CSK for 4 months, while a Irfan Pathan or Robin Utthapa may be available for 6 of the 8 months (ideal duration for the league)!  Like international players are released for International duty, ranji players too would be released for their state commitments. The point is IPL co exists along the international and domestic cricket calendar!

Eventually some players may choose a particular format and may give up on longer formats of the game, but that should be his personal choice without any restrictions or state pressure!

The Rise of the Subcontinent as cricket’s nerve centres & need for a kolpak for the SAARC region:

At the recently concluded world cup, 4 of the 5 SARC teams made it to the quarter finals. This trend is expected to just grow stronger in future editions of world events. Just the population of the 4 sub continent teams and cricket’s dominance as a sport in the region make it a logical inference. India will be to cricket what Europe is for world soccer.  Cricket in its genesis is bilateral, because for most of its existence the most relevant tournament was the Ashes, with the rest making up numbers; till the West Indies came into prominence in the 70s and 80, followed by India’s emergence as a global super power in terms of economic might and fan following.

We stare at an opportunity where as a superpower we need to open our arms to our fellow neighbors who share the passion for the sport along with us.

For a rich diverse talent pool we need to take off the restriction of 4 international players in the playing eleven, for players from the SARC region, who are not bound to national duties. While international players on current national duty from these SAARC nations should be exempted from this treaty, remaining players on fringes of national duty or who are no more in national reckoning should be encouraged to sign this deal! Like Kolpak they would have to give priority to IPL than to national duty, but in case a player wants to refocus on his national team, he should be given the flexibility of excusing himself from the contract.

The above would do the following for IPL ;

  • It will keep talent pool fresh and vibrant for an 8 month duration when Major Indian and international players will be absent owing to international commitments.
  • It will bring in some great fast bowling talent from Pakistan, Afghanistan , Bangladesh & Sri Lanka ; something these nations have been able to tap better than our own vast nation.
  • It will make an 8 month IPL a reality without compromising on talent or quality of play.
  • Expand the identification and belonging of the league to the whole sub continent, as a league of the region and not just India!
  • Will help create brand and product extensions of the IPL, benefitting the larger ecosystem of the sports industry (broadcasters ,domestic players ,coaches, IPL franchisees) ! For Eg The Syed Musthaq Ali tourney can be refurbished as” IPL domestics”, calling for separate broadcast rights! Also new tournaments can be added with separate broadcast rights , that would be lapped up by large number of broadcasters wanting live sports content.

If I Was the BCCI I Would call the Indian version of the deal as “Modi Sarc deal”!  This would do two things, get the Government & political support to the business, a must for our knick of the woods and second align however indirectly India’s biggest global icon on your !

Feedback appreciated and awaited !

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IPL brand extension can reinvigorate Ranji trophy into a competitive domestic league!

Cricket Leagues of India

Most cricket followers may have followed the recently concluded Ranji trophy final, like me on twitter! Though the tournament registers a great brand call with anyone remotely following Indian cricket, participation as a live viewer (broadcast or on-ground) may be bare minimal!

The 2014-15 season which featured a final between, Tamil Nadu & Karnataka had negligible viewer participation on ground or on-air! This season’s final, also coincided with the on going world cup and that as always, works detrimental in garnering viewership, in what I consider as an extra ordinary situation emerging every four years!

However what ails the Ranji trophy popularity, is the transformation of the competition over the years, from a competitive first class tournament into a development league for upcoming players.! The singular reason for this is   a long international cricket calendar, where national stars hardly participate in a ranji fixture. A comparative analysis of number of…

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IPL brand extension can reinvigorate Ranji trophy into a competitive domestic league!

Most cricket followers may have followed the recently concluded Ranji trophy final, like me on twitter! Though the tournament registers a great brand call with anyone remotely following Indian cricket, participation as a live viewer (broadcast or on-ground) may be bare minimal!

The 2014-15 season which featured a final between, Tamil Nadu & Karnataka had negligible viewer participation on ground or on-air! This season’s final, also coincided with the on going world cup and that as always, works detrimental in garnering viewership, in what I consider as an extra ordinary situation emerging every four years!

However what ails the Ranji trophy popularity, is the transformation of the competition over the years, from a competitive first class tournament into a development league for upcoming players.! The singular reason for this is   a long international cricket calendar, where national stars hardly participate in a ranji fixture. A comparative analysis of number of ranji appearences of Gavaskar in his playing times vis a vis Tendulkar’s could throw light as to how probably today’s top players hardly get to play India’s premiere domestic competition. According to a report that appeared on NDTV website Dt 2012;  Gavaskar has played 348 first class matches ,48 more than Tendulkar ,despite the latter’s longer first class span as cricketer.

Though the trend of the year long international calendar for top stars cannot be reworked; a few innovative steps documented below could be tried by the BCCI to create interest in the ranji trophy competition amongst viewers, players (domestic & international) & sponsors!

  1. Allow a brand extension for each IPL team into the ranji trophy circuit – All the IPL teams enjoy brand equity in terms of popularity & economic valuation far surpassing that of every Ranji trophy team in the country, including Mumbai & Karnataka Ranji teams. IF these teams with their existing domestic players pool are allowed to participate in the Ranji trophy ; they bring in a new economic and commercial energy much needed to boost the competition and its popularity. Now it may not be possible to have the participation of any top international star play for Ranji trophy, owing to busy international calendar! But there are enough players beyond the international team who possess significant brand equity to create a buzz for the competition! Most domestic players should be allowed to choose between his Ranji team and a professional contract with his IPL team.  There are presently 27 Ranji teams in India; add 8 IPL teams and tally of teams in Ranji trophy goes to 35 teams! Divide them in four groups and allow round robin format within group to further set one off elimination matches. This will help more players enter the first class pool & will bring in the competitive nature and public following , owing to participation of the IPL teams and players. Now the IPL team may deplete the star quality of a state team , owing to a player choosing an IPL team , but it is exactly this competitive spirit amongst teams that will reinvigorate the competition.  It also creates great scope for 8 derby encounters , a big highlight across domestic leagues ( across sporting disciplines)  around the world.

 

  1. Create a separate broadcast property for the Ranji trophy – Like it does for the IPL, BCCI needs to create a separate promotional fund to promote the Ranji trophy as a competitive premiere tournament. Funds required for same can be raised from franchisee fees from above IPL teams and broadcast fees from the large number of competitive broadcasters operating in the Indian media space. Now important to note here is the fact that the economics involved in this whole reengineering will be a fraction of the economy of scale of the IPL !However  as a start it will reinvigorate the competition,  with economically driven franchisees at the forefront ! It will also lift the morale of domestic  state teams who will come under public scrutiny in terms of performance  and accountability.

Ranji trophy is far prestigious a tournament, to just play the role of an assembly line for the national Indian team. In a nation which swears by cricket as a religion, the potential to optimize the game’s popularity, beyond the national team & the IPL tT20 tourney, stares the custodians of the sport in their face.

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Upsets to look out for at the ICCWorld T20

By Samir Pai

For any connoisseur of T20 cricket, one special feature of the format is the upsets that a minnow can inflict on the heavy weights. Every edition has seen upsets at galore and this edition will surely not be an exception. As seen in the just concluded India vs. Afghanistan match, the spirited men from the land of the pathans, remained in hunt of an upset right up to the very end of the match.  

The very first edition saw the indomitable Australians eat the humble pie against Zimbabwe, along with the babes of Asia Bangladesh beat a far more formidable West Indies.  The Second edition of the T20 world saw Netherlands beat hosts England in the round stage, along with West Indies beat the mighty Australians, who were still to decode the shortest format of the game. That was not all; the naturally gifted individuals from the Caribbean islands delivered the killer blow to the defending champions India in the group of 8s! Results in the third edition in the West Indies, saw no drastic results, like in the previous two editions, however a much fancied & IPL hardened India, lost all their matches except against lowly Afghanistan.   

While the Fourth Edition sees big teams more in tune with the requirements of the T20 format, making upsets difficult to achieve! It is no hidden fact that the T20 format provides the much lesser opponents their best chance to make a statement against the power centres of world cricket. How else would you explain an all charged Australia, turning out at their aggressive best against lowly Ireland and India sweating it out till the very end against Afghanistan!

In the humble view of the writer here are two of the matches that could deliver upsets! Your feedback and counterviews will be most appreciated in form of responses!

  1. 1.       24th September – West Indies Vs Ireland

 

This match should feature a mercurial west indies taking on a disciplined Ireland. While the West Indies possesses some of the best T20 players in the world, as a side they could disintegrate against a side that has county hardened and a disciplined lot from Ireland.

  1. 2.        25th September – Pakistan Vs Bangladesh

Anybody who has witnessed Bangladesh in the last edition of the Asia Cup would know of their huge improvements, especially in the limited over format of the game. It does not need rocket science to know that they would present their most dangerous self in the shortest format of the game! A temperamental Pakistani batting is what they would look to target to make most of that encounter.

I am sure the odds are stacked against these two lesser opponents, however if you are the betting types, looking to beat the odds for a big bounty, these are the games to look at with high interest.  For the rest of the general sports loving   folks like this writer, these two games provide you with the utmost joy of David conquer Goliath!  Happy gaming & viewing and enjoy the most democratic format of cricket at its highest level.

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Indian cricket’s ‘Special one ‘on cusp of a treble of world championships!

By Samir Pai

There is no doubt that MS Dhoni epitomizes the phrase ‘destiny’s child’ as far as India cricket is concerned. A rustic background from a region that is not a natural breeding ground for young cricketing talents; Dhoni emerged from the back lanes of Indian domestic cricket to evolve into one of the finest captain/ player, in the limited overs format of the game.

 Easily one of the best finishers of the game in the ODI format, Dhoni’s success at the game is not only confined to him being a brilliant player, but also the strategic head of the side, as its captain. His rise in stature as a leader since the fairytale World T20 campaign in South Africa 2007, has been phenomenally meteoric !

While his test record in the recent past has taken away a little sheen from his remarkable achievements as a captain; there is no denying the fact that in the limited over format & subcontinent conditions, Dhoni is the undisputed king.

If Dhoni & boys claim top honours at the forthcoming T20 world edition in Sri Lanka, he surely will become India’s best limited overs captains of all times.  After all it will be no mean feat to win three world championships!

However unlike the ODI World Cup which India won in emphatic style, the World T20 campaign is going to be a lot tougher for Dhoni & Co, primarily owing to the precarious nature of the T20 format. Such is the format that it makes it a far more equitable competition amongst competing teams! T20 as a format also negates to a large extent the advantage enjoyed by sub continent sides, in their own backyard, over their otherwise formidable rivals like Australia, England & South Africa ! Also the fact that many of the top international players of the world, play in the T20 leagues in the sub continent, including the IPL ; acclimatizes them to the playing conditions far better than in other formats of the game.  How Dhoni counters the competition will make an interesting watch!

MS Dhoni’s leadership style is almost akin to ‘brawler’ style boxer, who soaks in lot of punches & punishment from his opponent before finally counter attacking in the end with powerful punches to deliver the fatal knockout blow.  As seen in the recently concluded T20 verses New Zealand, Dhoni waited till the very last to deliver his final onslaught! There he was unsuccessful!  However record shows that this strategy has worked more often for him than not! The origins of such a strategy can also be inferred to his team composition being lop sided in favour of batsmen, weakening an already thin bowing line up.  Interesting to observe during  the T20 world, would be to see if Dhoni modifies his composition to strengthen his bowling line up with an additional bowler like Harbhajan ( also a decent lower middle order batsman in T20 format) or remains rigid with 7 batsmen/4 bowler composition!

Dhoni”s leadership in cricket is almost comparable to another titled ‘special one’ from a different sport, football- Jose Mourinho!  Both are canny, street-smart, outspoken and often successfully in blunting more attacking & free flowing opponents with effective defensive tactics and supreme man management skills.   Dhoni as a player is a different story , but Dhoni as a leader will surely seal his name in the annals  of Indian Cricket, as its greatest limited over captain, if he succeeds in winning is third world championship.

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Consortium of T20 league superstars could propel Calypsos as world beaters again.

By  Samir Pai

 

A bygone era saw the West Indies as the supreme side that dominated world cricket in all the then existing formats of the game.  Winners of the first two editions of the ODI world Cup, a galaxy of feared fast bowlers and supremely attacking  batsmen made them the rulers of world cricket. 

The present day West Indian cricket is a shadow of its former glory days.  Many factors have been attributed to this fall- athletes and sports inclined talents, looking at other sporting disciplines ( mainly the more financiall lucrative  North American sports), talented individual players who could never collectively form a strong unit, essential for  a team sport like cricket!

 However since the advent of the T20 format of the game, something  suited to the temperament of  mercurial  & naturally talented cricketers , coupled with the mushrooming of T20 leagues around the world in the last five years, has led to a resurgence and realistic expectation of the famed Calypsos being bestowed  the favourite tags at the forthcoming T20 world in Sri Lanka.

Led by the affable and hard working all rounder Daryl Sammy, this side possess talents’ that have been most sought after in T20 leagues such as the Australian big bash and the glitzy IPL. The most destructive T20 player in the world  is undoubtedly Chris Gayle and his return to the national fold should see him propel the chances of his side along with other T20 hardened specialists such as Pollard, Bravo and new spin wonderkid at IPLV, Sunil Narine.  While the bulk work  in batting and bowling will be done by the galaxy of all rounders that reads names like Pollard, Russel, Bravo & Samuels; it will be the specialist of the  likes of Gayle, Darren Bravo with bat and Edwards , Rampaul and Narine with the ball, who may prove the deciding factor in big matches.

The Windies look to possess all the arsenals in terms of talent,  experience and natural aggressive flair, to do well  in this tournament!  However the deciding factor in their fortunes may  be decided by how these supremely talented individuals combine as a unit.

If the Windies succeed at this edition of the T20 World, it will also be a great testimonial of T20 leagues around the world , especially the subcontinent, where these talented individuals ply their trade. Rather than a domestic structure and talent harnessing system as that seen in  nations like Australia and South Africa, here is a multinational consortium  of players who have battle hardened their skills and game in foreign leagues.

However  even the most enthusiastic West Indian fan would be cautioned by the fact that his/her side participating at the T20 world is much akin to a talented African or South American  soccer nation, bestowed with brilliant indigenous talents plying their trade in top foreign leagues.  Though these  brilliant footballers are the toasts of their clubs in Europe , their proficiency at winning somehow never translates to the fullest while playing for their nation at the world stage.

This phenomenon  of  foreign talents from top cup leagues  trying to translate their club success  to their national  team was first displayed in maximum glare in the 1990 FIFA world cup in Italy by the indomitable lions , Cameroon & is now displayed by the West Indies in cricket in the T20 format. It also reflects how like Europe is the nerve centre of football the subcontinent is the nerve centre for world cricket.

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