This year’s Ranji final turned out to be one of those games where, the minute the result was known, you felt sorry for the team that had lost.
Fair result overall: Bombay won more of the crucial sessions and showed the ice-in-the-veins quality that separates champion sides from the rest; Karnataka in contrast stuffed up on key sessions when things were going in its favor, took control only to surrender it again, and when push came to shove, the collective nerve just didn’t hold.
On a helpful pitch, bowlers on both sides produced scintillating spells — but at the end of it all, the man you felt sorry for was young Manish Pandey. Faced with the task of scoring a record number of runs to upset the champions, the Karnataka batsmen came to the crease intent on survival; the ‘game plan’ seemed structured on the lines of if we hang around out there long enough, the runs will come and the target will be reached.
Bad move, on a wicket that afforded considerable assistance to bowlers of all types. Manish alone appeared to have figured out that you have to actively pursue a target, and he alone had the skill — phenomenal skill, really — and the nerve to play his game his way.
The one image that will remain after all others — outstanding deliveries, some scarcely credible fielding efforts, and even Manish’s silken stroke-making — are forgotten is something I saw on the TV screen earlier today. The camera swept across a full house at the Glades, then panned out and across to long lines of spectators outside the gates, queuing up to get in.
That one image gives the lie to what we are constantly told — that in this country there isn’t enough interest in domestic tournaments featuring unknown names; that the only time crowds will come is when the superstars turn out for international duty.
Clearly, that is not true. Clearly, it is not about who is playing. At least, it is not entirely about who is playing as much as it is about the expectation of witnessing some great cricket.
If our domestic competition hasn’t drawn crowds, the fault then is not with the lack of marquee value of participating players as it is with an administration, national and local, that has neither the will nor the inclination to provide the sort of conditions that can make for gripping contests.
In recent times, the BCCI has repeatedly revised its domestic structure. Maybe it is time now to revise its mindset; to instruct its curators to prepare good wickets; to spend some energy publicizing its domestic calendar as opposed to hyping the next dozen India-Sri Lanka games; to build a buzz around the domestic circuit and to give spectators a reason to turn out.
Build it, and they will come. As they did here, while an ‘Idea Cup’ went largely unwatched.
One final regret: Zaheer Khan was busy with one-day duties — but imagine what this contest could have been, with Dravid turning out for Karnataka and Tendulkar [and even Rohit Sharma — surely the Indian team could have found someone else to bring out spare bats?] for Bombay.
In passing, check this out [the video I wish I could throw up is a pull young Manish played last evening, off the front foot to a short ball from Agarkar, smashing the ball in the arc between mid wicket and mid off — tangentially apropos, read Osman Samiuddin on the pull as played by Ponting]. And in watching the video, forget the flying through the air stunt — keep an eye, during the replays, on what the fielder does as soon as he gets the ball in hand while still airborne — the wrist curving down to ensure the ball wouldn’t hit the turf, in the midst of all those acrobatics: awesome!