Playing on uncovered pitches, incentivising wins by tweaking the Ranji Trophy points system, scheduling Ranji knockouts at neutral venues, increasing the number of rest days between games, increasing the number of bouncers allowed per over in first-class cricket; these were all ideas proposed at a BCCI conclave for domestic captains and coaches, in Mumbai.
With team officials from nearly 27 states in attendance, the meeting was chaired by BCCI president N Srinivasan along with Sanjay Jagdale and Ratnakar Shetty, the board secretary and chief-administrative officer respectively. The conclave, a concept that had been discontinued a few years ago, made a resounding comeback according to some participants, who said there had been fruitful discussions.
One of most important discussions in this year's conclave concerned the revamping of the points system in the Ranji Trophy. WV Raman, the former India opener and current Bengal coach, suggested there was a need to encourage teams to win games outright. Under the current points system, once a team takes the first-innings lead they sit back, he said. "My suggestion was if a team gets a first-innings lead then give them the impetus to go for an outright win by allowing them to retain the three points even if they lose the game. The team that wins will get four points."
According to the existing rules, a team that takes a first-innings lead gets three points if the match ends in a draw, with the opponent getting one point. An outright win is worth five points with an additional bonus point available for an innings victory or ten-wicket win. According to Raman's formula, a team would secure three points once they took a first-innings lead, regardless of the result, and would then chase a further four points for a win.
"It will give the teams the drive to challenge the opponents and make sporting declarations," Raman said.
The other topic which saw animated discussion was that of uncovered pitches. Bishan Singh Bedi, the former India captain and current Jammu & Kashmir coach, said playing on uncovered pitches would toughen up domestic batsmen and simultaneously negate home advantage in matches. The idea met some opposition, particularly, according to Hyderabad coach Sunil Joshi, from the batsmen and coaches at the conclave.
"In domestic cricket the quality of bowling is bad while the batsmen continue to bat on for days," Bedi said. "The uncovered pitches will give the bowlers some encouragement."
According to Joshi, a better idea would be to use uncovered pitches at the Under-19 and Under-22 levels. "That would allow the youngsters to negotiate variable bounce, moisture, dew and a variety of other factors. It could be a good learning experience not only for the youngsters but also for the coaches," Joshi said.
During the BCCI's technical committee meeting last month, Sourav Ganguly and his nine-member panel had struck down the suggestion of playing Ranji matches at neutral venues, an idea that had come out of the BCCI working committee meeting. The technical committee had recommended carrying on with the existing home-and-away format during the league phase.
During the conclave, many coaches and captains supported the idea of knockout matches being played at neutral grounds, saying it would guard against any bias a home-team curator might have while preparing a pitch. However, Raman pointed out that the home team lost in both semi-finals and the final this Ranji season. "So you can't take it for granted that the home side will tweak things in their favour," Raman said. Also, Raman said, the fact that BCCI grounds and pitches committee officials were present to overlook pitch preparations during the knockout phase was a good enough assurance that tracks would be fair to both sides.
Raman also suggested at the conclave that fast bowlers be allowed to bowl three bouncers in an over in first-class cricket. "It would give the fast bowlers an added weapon and also help batsman counter short-pitch bowling," Raman said. It was an extension, Raman said, of the technical committee's decision to allow two bouncers in an over during domestic one-day tournaments.
There was also a unanimous opinion among the captains and coaches that a four-day break between matches during the Ranji season was needed as opposed to the prevailing three-day breaks.
Ganguly's committee had suggested that Kookaburra balls continue being used during the Duleep Trophy. That idea did not find favour at the conclave, as members suggested playing with SG Test balls would be better. "What is the point of playing with a Kookaburra ball when the domestic players play the Ranji season with SG balls," Joshi said. "Also, in the next 18 months India will be playing only at home so it would be much better to use SG during the Duleep Trophy too."
Kookaburra balls are used for the domestic 50-over and 20-over competitions, and it was recommended that teams be given more balls to practise with, well in advance of the tournaments. "Normally we are given a few Kookaburra balls two days before the tournament. How do you expect the bowlers to get used to it?" one of the coaches said. Another idea discussed was the introduction of a league phase in the Duleep and Deodhar Trophy.
Joshi and Hrishikesh Kanitkar, the captain of Rajasthan, winners of the last two Ranji Trophies, proposed the idea of having just one group in both Elite and Plate divisions, increasing the number of games each team would play in the league phase, and thus giving them more chances to qualify for the knockouts. "So you play about 14 matches in the Elite division, and 11 in Plate. Then you could have the top four or the top two from each group progress to the quarterfinals or the semi-finals," Joshi said.
That idea, though, was in contradiction to the agreed-upon notion that players needed more rest. "On the one hand people wanted the rest period increased, but at the same time they were requesting more cricket in an already packed calendar," one of the captains who attended the meeting said.