Chennai: There's something about the sight of a cricket match being played in front of a packed stadium that sets the pulse racing. The game becomes a spectacle only when it's played in front of spectators.
Nothing beats a full house, but a smattering of crowd is enough to create an atmosphere.
At the Duleep Trophy final of 2012-13, atmosphere was conspicuous by its absence. At the time of writing, only one session's play was possible, but there's no lack of desire or intensity from players of East and Central Zones. That intent has been lent a further edge by the presence of the new selection panel, headed by Sandeep Patil.
The Duleep Trophy final should be the toughest match of the domestic season. With players across the length and breadth of India filtered down to just five zonal teams, and with four and five-day matches, the standards demanded of players should be the highest that a non-international Indian cricketer will encounter.
The trophy might have lost some of its sheen in recent years, but it still retains its history, and forms an important achievement for those good enough to lay hands on it.
Despite the context, the only spectators who came to watch the final were the proverbial three men and a dog.
One of the reasons for that is obvious: in the absence of big name international players, interest in such fixtures will be low. That an MS Dhoni or a Virat Kohli has not turned out for state and zonal teams for a while now is often lamented, but one look at the international schedule that Indian players have faced will give a good idea of just why this is impossible.
From September 2009 till the end of IPL 2012, the Indian team has been almost continuously on the road. They played in a tournament that most would have forgotten about within a week of its getting over, the Compaq Cup, from September 8, 2009. Since then, the longest break they've had between the official ending and starting dates of a tournament was before the 2011 World Cup, but even that was preceded by a round of warm-up matches well before the tournament started.
The table below gives a snapshot of the schedule:
|Trophy/Series||Start Date||End Date|
|Compaq Cup||Sep 08, 2009||Sep 14, 2009|
|Champions Trophy 2009||Sep 22, 2009||Oct 05, 2009|
|Champions League 2009||Oct 08, 2009||Oct 23, 2009|
|Bilateral ODIs vs Australia (home)||Oct 25, 2009||Nov 11, 2009|
|Sri Lanka tour of India||Nov 16, 2009||Dec 27, 2009|
|Tri-series in Bangladesh||Jan 04, 2010||Jan 13, 2010|
|Tests in Bangladesh||Jan 17, 2010||Jan 28, 2010|
|South Africa tour of India||Feb 06, 2010||Feb 27, 2010|
|IPL 2010||Mar 12, 2010||Apr 25, 2010|
|World T20 2010||May 01, 2010||May 16, 2010|
|Tri-series in Zimbabwe||May 28, 2010||Jun 09, 2010|
|T20s vs Zimbabwe (away)||Jun 12, 2010||Jun 13, 2010|
|India tour of Sri Lanka||Jun 16, 2010||Aug 28, 2010|
|Champions League 2010 (South Africa)||Sep 10, 2010||Sep 26, 2010|
|Australia tour of India||Oct 01, 2010||Oct 24, 2010|
|New Zealand tour of India||Nov 04, 2010||Dec 10, 2010|
|India tour of South Africa||Dec 16, 2010||Jan 23, 2011|
|World Cup 2011||Feb 19, 2011||Apr 02, 2011|
|IPL 2011||Apr 08, 2011||May 28, 2011|
|India tour of West Indies||Jun 04, 2011||Jul 10, 2011|
|India tour of England||Jul 15, 2011||Sep 16, 2011|
|Champions League 2011||Sep 19, 2011||Oct 09, 2011|
|England tour of India||Oct 14, 2011||Oct 29, 2011|
|West Indies tour of India||Nov 06, 2011||Dec 11, 2011|
|India tour of Australia||Dec 15, 2011||Feb 28, 2012|
|Asia Cup 2012 (Bangladesh)||Mar 11, 2012||Mar 22, 2012|
|One-off T20 in South Africa||Mar 30, 2012||Mar 30, 2012|
|IPL 2012||Apr 04, 2012||May 27, 2012|
Just looking at how soon one series has started after the previous one has ended makes you giddy. Not all players have been part of every squad, but the core group has remained the same, missing out only when rested or injured.
You can't then really fault Gautam Gambhir, for example, if he chooses to spend the little time in between series that he gets away from the cricket field.
When England toured India in October 2011, matches in coloured clothing were played in front of near-empty stadiums – an almost unheard of occurrence. I'm not aware of any survey conducted to find the reason for this, but it doesn't seem too much of a stretch to suppose that even spectators were tired of the cricket overkill.
Even if you accept that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has to consider the monetary aspect of packing in international cricket, there's still some room to improve the standing of the parts of Indian domestic cricket that don't spell IPL.
A fraction of the marketing effort that goes behind international cricket and the IPL could help for a start. It seems reasonable to think that in a country where the game is followed by tens of millions, there will be a subset who enjoy domestic cricket too, and that subset will at least run into the hundreds.
And what those hundreds will come to see are not stars but contests, which depend heavily on the presence of sporting pitches. There are other ways to enliven domestic matches too.
Murali Kartik, who has travelled the length and breadth of the country for domestic matches, says a review of the points system currently in force for the Ranji Trophy would not be amiss.
Drawing from his experience of playing county cricket in England, Kartik advocated a different points system.
"You (the batting team) reach 200 and get your first batting point," said Kartik. "At 250 you get your second batting point, and so on till let's say 450. That's six batting points. Then you get bowling points for the first two wickets or three wickets. You can have it any format – 2,4,6,8 and 10 or something else. And then, you've got six batting points and five bowling points – those are bonus. Plus when you win the game, you get 15-16 points."
The system can be tweaked, but the basic idea behind it is simple and effective: prevent batathons that do nothing except inflate averages and infuse interest in the game till the last day, because points are on offer and the first-innings lead is not the determining factor.
Eliminating dullness sounds like a good start. Now, if only something can be done about the international schedule!