Dinesh Karthik became the latest high-profile player to voice his displeasure over conducting Ranji Trophy matches in neutral venues.
Karthik, the Tamil Nadu wicketkeeper-batsman, called for a return to the home and away concept, but suggested that the Board of Control for Cricket in India should do away with the toss to ensure state associations don’t prepare unfair pitches.
“The Ranji Trophy home and away concept should be brought back instead of neutral venues,” Karthik told Wisden India a day after his century helped Tamil Nadu win the Deodhar Trophy. “I think they should do away with the toss. If they can do that, it will bring a balance to both the teams, the quality of wickets that are going to be prepared, and it will also be good to play in front of whatever home support. Even if it’s 200 to 300 people, you know they’re cheering for you.
“Absolutely, the visiting team should get the priority on what they want to do. That will ensure that you play on good wickets where the toss doesn’t become a big issue. If there is a bit of moisture on the wicket, the visiting team is under pressure to decide whether they want to bat or bowl first. Whereas if you prepare a horrible wicket, you know what the visiting team will want to do, and you are under pressure as the home team.”
Karthik’s suggestion is similar to England and Wales Cricket Board’s decision to do away with the toss for the 2016-17 county season. The 31-year-old wanted India too to shed ‘tradition’ to keep pace with times.
“It’s just a tradition,” said Karthik. “In India, we still have tea. Tea was brought in in those days in England because it was cold and the English players like tea. These are traditions we’ve been following over a period of time.
“It’s fine to have tea but I think we can do away with the toss. Removal of the toss will make home associations more aware of the fact that they will be playing when it’s tougher. So they will prepare good wickets. It brings a lot of balance to both the teams and I’m sure those kind of hard (difficult) wickets where matches get over in two-three days might reduce a lot.”
The BCCI adopted the neutral venues concept for the 2016-17 season after a large number of Ranji matches in the previous season finished within two or three days. Many state associations were found guilty of preparing rank turners to suit their home side, resulting in batsmen struggling throughout the season.
However, Karthik, who has played 153 first-class matches apart from 113 international games, felt that neutral venues tilted the balance in favour of batsmen. Numbers back Karthik’s concerns as well. There were as many as five triple-centuries and 19 double-centuries in the season that went by, while there were no triple-tons and only 13 double-tons in the previous year.
“I feel the number of 300s that happened in domestic cricket this year were too many,” he reasoned. “I think there were about five or six 300s and it goes to show that sometimes they’ve played on tracks that are suited to bat.”
“It’s just a tradition. In India, we still have tea. Tea was brought in in those days in England because it was cold and the English players like tea. These are traditions we’ve been following over a period of time. It’s fine to have tea but I think we can do away with the toss.”
Karthik is not the first cricketer to call for an end to the toss. Amol Muzumdar, the former Mumbai batsman, had also suggested the same before the start of the season.
“Personally, I feel the home and away concept is a very good system. It is just about the state association being honest in their intent while preparing the wicket,” Muzumdar, the Ranji Trophy’s second most-capped cricketer and second-highest run-getter had said. “The pitches have to be made correctly, and reported correctly. If that happens then you don’t have to shift any matches away from home. BCCI appointing curators for all games is one idea, and also not having the toss and allowing the visiting team to decide what they want to do could be another solution.”
Among the main reasons for the many voices against the neutral venue concept is the feeling that the state associations and curators no longer invested on preparing a good wicket as their home side is not playing.
An established player who has also represented India and whose team reached the Ranji knockouts told Wisden India that curators in some venues are ‘not bothered’ about preparing a good pitch.
“In some venues, so much depends on the toss,” he said. “You look at the results of those venues and it’s always the team winning the toss who has won the match (or taken the first-innings lead). That is because people aren’t bothered about preparing a good pitch or having conditions in shape for a neutral match.”
Similar concerns were raised by many across the cricket fraternity through the Ranji season. While Sulakshan Kulkarni, the Chhattisgarh coach, said the associations played safe for their reputations, Abhinav Mukund, Karthik’s Tamil Nadu captain, said there was no continuity while playing an entire season in neutral venues.
“If you see honestly, the standard of wickets in neutral venues were not good except for few grounds,” Kulkarni had said. “Since the home team is not playing, half the interest goes away from an association’s point of view. When the home team plays, you make your pitch as per strength. When two other teams are playing, you are not bothered and because of that you get flat wickets. Because it is neutral, you don’t want to be blamed. That becomes a tendency. The association and curator play for their reputation.”
“I don’t think anyone actually is bothered about the wickets being prepared,” Abhinav had said after Tamil Nadu ended their campaign with a semifinal loss to Mumbai. “Everyone’s playing it safe, which is why people are scoring more than 1000 runs, 1500 runs and I don’t see many spinners coming into play at all. I don’t like this concept mainly because of the fact that there’s no continuity. You play throughout the year in one condition — it’s really important to play at home. These are the kind of things you grow up with as a cricketer.”