Indian cricket’s new challenge: Nearly half in IPL 2024 played one or no Ranji game this season | Cricket News

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Last month, the BCCI finally addressed a problem that was looming on the horizon as far back as in 2008 when the cash-rich IPL came into being. It warned players against picking “IPL over domestic cricket” and, to set an example, excluded two young stars Shreyas Iyer and Ishan Kishan from its list of central contracts for missing Ranji Trophy matches this season.

There’s a reason why the BCCI is now scrambling to cap this trend.

Team lists analysed by The Indian Express show that of the 165 Indian cricketers who signed up for IPL 2024 starting Friday, 56 did not appear for a single game in the Ranji season that ended this week despite being on their state units’ radar while 25 more appeared in only one.

“This is a matter of concern. Forget fast bowlers (who are injury-prone), even batters with IPL contracts don’t want to play Ranji Trophy. We have requested the BCCI to conduct the IPL auction after the Ranji Trophy. We are suffering because of it,” Brigadier Anil Gupta, who is part of the administration running the J&K state unit, said.

Officials point out that cricketers give four-day Ranji games a miss mainly to remain injury-free for the four-hour IPL. But then, they say, the big question is: are players solely to blame?

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“The BCCI allowed them to get away with it. With no clear policy or fitness protocol, the state units were helpless in forcing IPL stars to play first-class cricket,” said a senior state unit official.

Nothing illustrates the crisis better than these examples culled from Ranji Trophy data, and interviews with state unit officials and IPL franchise owners — injuries are often the official reason given by cricketers to miss Ranji games.

Hardik Pandya, the new Mumbai Indians’ captain who is among the IPL’s top earners, and his brother Krunal Pandya, the Lucknow SuperGiants (LSG) all-rounder, haven’t played for Baroda in Ranji for a while. Hardik last played the domestic tournament in 2018.

“The Pandya brothers haven’t informed us about the reason. They contact the coach or the association chairman when they are available, but they haven’t played Ranji for a while now. Krunal played limited-overs cricket this season for Baroda and Hardik is recovering from injury,” Baroda Cricket Association secretary Ajit Lele said.

After Umran Malik hit the headlines with his 150kph deliveries, two other fast bowlers from J&K, Rasikh Salam Dar and Yudhvir Singh Charak, were picked for the IPL. Both missed the entire Ranji season.

“Rasik injured his tendon in the camp, while Yudhvir got a medical report from LSG saying he has a niggle in his shoulder. They weren’t checked by our physios. Even Umran was reluctant to play in the Ranji Trophy,” Brigadier Anil Gupta, of the J&K unit, said.

India coach Rahul Dravid had said that Jharkhand’s Ishan Kishan should play in the Ranji to get back in reckoning for India. But Jharkhand State Cricket Association president Sanjay Sahay said, “He never made himself available for Ranji. We haven’t received any guidelines from the coach, selectors or the BCCI.”

A Ranji regular for Vidarbha since 2014, Jitesh Sharma got his first IPL contract in 2022. This January, he first played the India-Afghanistan T20 series and later the same month, played a Ranji game. He went on to miss nine Ranji games, including the final.

“The last we know, Jitesh submitted a medical report stating that he had some issue in the groin. He hasn’t given the association a fitness update. As far as we are concerned, he is injured,” said Vidarbha’s selection committee chairman Suhas Phadkar.

The Chahar brothers — Deepak (Chennai Super Kings) and Rahul (Punjab Kings) – represent Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy. But this season, Rahul played one game and Deepak none. “They either pick and choose Ranji games or submit medical reports from their IPL franchises stating they are unfit. This has been happening for years,” said a Rajasthan Cricket Association official.

Chennai Super Kings (CSK) pacers Rajvardhan Hangargekar and Mukesh Chowdhury haven’t played a Ranji game this season because of injury but their home association, Maharashtra, has no clarity about their fitness.

“Hangargekar and Mukesh are injured and we don’t know when they will be fit. It was the reason for them missing out on Ranji this season. I don’t know the nature of their injuries as physios are monitoring them,” Shubhendra Bhandarkar, who was Maharashtra Cricket Association secretary till last month, said.

Now consider this: Bhupen Lalwani, who was part of Mumbai’s Ranji-winning team, got Rs 17,20,000 for playing 10 first-class matches. In contrast, the lowest base price for a player at the last IPL auction was Rs 20 lakh.

It’s hardly a surprise then that the only domestic tournaments that see a rush of IPL players and hopefuls are the shorter-format Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 and the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy. With franchises sending talent scouts, these white-ball tournaments have become gateways to IPL contracts.

According to Dilip Vengsarkar, former India captain and BCCI apex council member, first-class cricket makes you a better cricketer. “The longer version helps you to develop mental toughness and temperament, which help you become a good cricketer even in shorter formats,” he said.

In fact, IPL figures show that every batsmen on the T20 league’s top 10 run-getters’ list has played over 100 first-class games while at least eight bowlers on their corresponding list have played more than 50 such matches.

“I strongly believe that cricketers below 19 years of age should not be allowed to play the T20 format. What has happened nowadays is that even in school cricket they play only the T20 format,” said Vengsarkar, who has played 116 Tests and spotted Kohli’s potential during his time as chairman of selectors.

Some IPL franchises claim that they insist on their cricketers playing the longer format. “We have been insisting on these players playing Ranji because that is how you grow as cricketers,” CSK CEO Kasi Viswanathan said.

According to Uttarakhand Ranji coach Manish Jha, BCCI secretary Jay Shah’s warning last month came at just the right time. “This has saved Ranji Trophy because players were genuinely not interested in playing in the country’s premier domestic cricket tournament. The IPL is causing chaos in Indian domestic cricket,” Jha said.

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