It has been 85 years of the country’s one of the most popular domestic tournaments. The domestic level game is the foundation for any sports, the nation who wants to flourish at the international stage. Likewise, Ranji Trophy never disappointed Indian cricket fans. It has successfully produced heroes time to time throughout the last 85 years who went on to become legends of Indian cricket. This first-class tournament has also worked as a practice stage for national cricketers as this if one of the most competitive tournaments of the nation. Not only the format but the way Ranji Trophy is played, that makes this tournament worth playing. Currently, 37 teams take part in Ranji Trophy with all 29 states in India and two of the seven union territories sending at least one representation to the tournament. This certainly gives an opportunity where a bunch of talented young cricketers meet, seek advice from the seniors, play with their national heroes and get a chance to play against each other. The entire process helps in overall growth of the young talents in Indian cricket.
There was a time when only a few big states used to dominate Ranji Trophy, but things have begun to change recently. The first 15 years of the competition gave eight new winners and that was it. Next 50 years saw just six new winners. The winner's list is dominated hugely by Bombay (Mumbai). Mumbai has the highest number of Ranji Trophy Title (41) with Karnataka at the second position (8). Two third of Ranji Trophy titles belong to Mumbai, Karnataka, and Delhi (7).
But fortunately the last fifteen years since 2004, once against started giving some first-time winners. Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Vidarbha are the new winners in the list with some shining performers from relatively smaller teams like Saurashtra, Kerala, and Maharashtra.
Since 2008-09 season there were as many as 26 teams qualified for Ranji Trophy Quarter-Final at least once. 18 of these teams were featured in the top four and there were 11 different finalists in that period. It also saw five winners; Mumbai (4 times), Karnataka (2 times), Rajasthan (2 times), Vidarbha (2 times) and Gujarat (once).
Now if we have to analyze the reason for this change a few reasons seemed to have acted as the catalyst. One interesting factor which was common for both Rajasthan and Vidarbha was the presence of so-called ‘professionals’ in the squad. Now this concept of ‘professionals’ is not a new one. This basically means players who are not required by their own state or want to try new challenges getting a NOC from the state board and represent some other team in the Ranji Trophy.
The Rajasthan team was a good bunch of youngsters looking for someone to guide them and in the 2008-09 season three stalwarts from India’s domestic scene Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Akash Chopra and Rashmi Ranjan Parida joined them as ‘professionals’. Teams can appoint up to three professionals and Rajasthan utilized the opportunity well. It started to give immediate results as shown by Rajasthan’s demolition of Hyderabad where they bowled them out for just 21 and then Kanitkar’s 193 ensured the innings win. With a string of good results, Rajasthan qualified to final eight from Plate group and then stunned everyone by lifting their first Ranji Trophy title. Without stopping there, Kanitkar led them to an encore next year.
Even for Vidarbha,played a key role for their back-to-back Ranji titles this year. Coming from Mumbai, Jaffer joined Vidarbha in 2015. This year, he went on to become the leading run-getter for Vidarbha this season.
Moreover, the format change has helped in the overall improvement of the Ranji Trophy. Earlier Ranji Trophy used to be played in a zone-based system where only top two teams from each zone could qualify. With big guns like Mumbai, Karnataka, Delhi, Bengal, all the other teams used to virtually play for one spot. However, this model has changed in early 2000 and a more open super versus plate division was introduced. This brought a level playing field for all teams and especially the smaller teams got a chance to qualify from plate division by competing with similar quality teams. Kerala is a very good example where in the case of the zonal model, they had hardly any chance to compete against teams like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. However, with this new model has helped in changing Kerala’s fate in the Ranji Trophy. This season Kerala has reached to the Semi-Final and proved to be a strong force in the upcoming seasons of Ranji Trophy.
This season of Ranji Trophy was a perfect example of the benefits of the system change. Five quarter-finalists came from the top tier, two from the second tier (Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) and one from the lower third tier of competition (Uttarakhand) to make it a well diverse, monopoly-less tournament.
The commercialization of cricket in India has helped a lot in the growth of cricket in the entire country. The first phase of commercialization came in the 1990s. Radio and television helped in the awareness of the game. Then came the IPL. Indian Premier League is the perfect amalgamation of cricket and entertainment. The foremost objective of the league is to find out talents from each corner of the country. The demand for quality players for IPL encouraged a lot in the overall process and development. Thanks to the awareness of the game due to commercialization that small town cricket talents came under the limelight. The biggest example of this is Mahendra Singh Dhoni. A generation that was in the awe of a Mumbaikar Sachin Tendulkar, a Prince of Calcutta, Sourav Ganguly, the wall from Bangalore, Rahul Dravid, quickly fell in love with the captain cool MS Dhoni, a guy next door from Ranchi. Dhoni already had some seniors with a small-town background like Zaheer Khan. But Dhoni almost brought a revolution.
Ranji Trophy has been a key contributor in the country’s cricket circuit. The tournament is a steady breeding ground for Indian stars for close to a century now. With the change of format, improvement of system and effective competitive environment is only improving the cricket condition of the country. The smaller teams have also started taking things more seriously because of all these side effects. The inclusions of professional coaches like Chandrakant Pandit for Vidarbha and Dev Whatmore for Kerala are the signs and this strategy has worked really well for these teams.
With the senior team emerging as one of the threats at the international cricket circuit, BCCI is now focusing a lot more on the domestic cricket currently. To remain on the top it is important to have a strong base and the richest cricket board is the world has understood the fact. The appointment of senior cricketers as coaches, mentors are helping in the whole process. And when there is a junior team coach like Rahul Dravid who believes in strengthening the domestic cricket, the scenario is bound to change for the betterment.