There are a number of theories why Indian cricket hasn’t reached the dizzying heights that Australian cricket has reached, ranging from corruption, to players getting distracted by sponsorship, and pressure from the media, and the Indian public in general.
However, in my opinion, the main cause of this sad fact is the structure of our domestic cricket. Just like how illiteracy is the root cause of all of India’s general problems, domestic cricket is the root cause of our lack of success at the international level.
There are 27 domestic teams. Until 5 years ago, the Ranji league was based on a zonal system. There was hardly any competition in these matches. Each zone had 2 strong teams on an average. They played each other, and then played between 1 and 3 knockout matches against other top teams. That made it around 5 meaningful matches a season.
How can you expect players to gain experience when they hardly play against teams of quality. Half of the team is from Mumbai or Karnataka. So, assuming there are 14 players in a test squad, you have 7 players coming from the remaining 25 teams.
The Indian international cricket season runs year-long and hence the ‘stars’ choose to skip domestic games so that they can get some rest. While some call them irresponsible, I don’t blame them for doing so. So, if you don’t play a quality opposition at the domestic level, how can you expect cricketers to be of quality?
Take Australia for instance. They have only 6 domestic teams. On an average, that means that there are 2-3 test players in every team. Every team is of quality.
International cricketers actively take part in the domestic competition because they are not overplayed. ONLY by playing a good team, you can become good. Look at Bangladesh. They spent a lot of time playing ‘minnows’, and that didn’t help their cause. They started playing against top countries in the world, and they have improved by heaps.
The only other test playing country having a large number of domestic teams is England, and they too are suffering. However, each county team has two international players.
The BCCI step of creating a Super League & Plate League is in the right direction. However, the fact is that there are too many teams (15 in the Super League & 12 in the Plate League).
Here are my suggestions, or, as I would like to call, my ten-point plan to improve Indian cricket:
- Encourage the national team players to play in the domestic leagues.
- The Ranji trophy should be played between zones (this may seem redundant with the Duleep trophy…we’ll deal with it later). Each of the 5 zones should play each other twice or thrice.
- Simultaneously, within each zone, the 5-6 teams associated with the zone should have their own internal competition. The top players from each zone are selected to represent the zone. And, the top players from each zone will be selected to play for India (no quota business should be involved)
- Rather than separating the longer version and the one-day domestic tournaments, these should be mixed, so that players can learn to adapt. When they go on international tours, there are tests and ODIs on the tour in 95% of the cases.
- Open domestic cricket to facilitate the participation of international players. A lot of international players go to England to gain experience. I’m sure a lot of cricketers will want to come to India to improve their technique on slow, turning wickets.
- Arrange for a lot of practice pitches resembling various pitches around the world.
- Encourage more India ‘A’ & ‘B’ tours to non-Asian countries. There is no point sending these teams to Sri Lanka & Pakistan regularly. The relative amount of experience they get in the neighboring countries is much less than what they would get elsewhere, due to the nature of surfaces and style of cricket.
- Rather than having one selector from each zone, have a core selection committee of 3 people, in addition to the coach & captain (and maybe some former test players occasionally).
- Have a ‘boot camp’ for the top 20-30 upcoming players of the country every year. This camp should preferably be held outside India.
- Performance-based contracts at the domestic level.
[Note: This was written almost a month ago, when India was eliminated from the world cup. This was written in response to former Indian opener, Sunil Gavaskar’s question on Yahoo! Answers India regarding the topic.]