New Delhi: A bunch of seasoned domestic cricketers, starved of red ball cricket for the past two years, couldn't hide their excitement after hearing that Ranji Trophy will finally be held in 2022, albeit in two phases.
Organising a 38-team event amid the COVID-19 pandemic is a massive challenge for BCCI, whose secretary Jay Shah on Friday announced that Ranji Trophy knockouts could be held post IPL in June while the league stage can begin as early as second week of February.
Staging the event in parts adds to the challenge but for cricketers, who have been facing financial instability and not getting a platform to move up Indian cricket's pathway ladder, playing with the red cherry only matters.
"Every domestic cricketer in the country is not thinking about the league phase or knockouts, no one is thinking about bubble or COVID, they just want to play.
"Playing is everything right now and rest will follow," said star Saurashtra batter Sheldon Jackson, whose team has had an extended run as defending champions, with the last red ball game in the country held back in March 2020.
"We all very thankful to the BCCI which has decided to conduct red ball cricket even in these tough times. Only when you are able to play, you can think of climbing up the ladder.
"No doubt red ball is the toughest form of cricket but we all want to excel in it. It will be a challenge initially but when muscle memory comes back we should be fine," he added.
As per the event's format, each team will have to play five leagues games. That can be completed in a month with three rest days after every match.
The quarterfinals, semifinals and final can be held in June, though the monsoon season sets in at that time of the year.
Chandigarh pacer Sandeep Sharma, who is an IPL regular, was recently down with COVID-19 after having to miss the domestic T20 event due to dengue. He too is happy that Ranji is set to be played but said it will be a huge task for the BCCI to pull off.
"Only 200 players play the IPL but domestic cricket is played by many more. It is important financially as well as for your career growth. Since I just recovered from COVID, I would hope no one gets affected by the virus during Ranji.
"There are 38 teams and we have seen in the IPL, despite all the strict measures, the virus managed to enter the bubble. In Ranji Trophy, there will be a lot more teams. It is a great step by the board and a massive challenge at the same time," said Sharma.
Sidhesh Lad, who has not found a place in the Mumbai squad this season, said players will finally have the opportunity to showcase their talent.
"It is a good news for players like us. It keeps us financially stable, also we have been struggling for opportunities for the past two-three seasons.
"We are not able to showcase our talent unless you are part of the IPL or the national team. For the last two, three seasons no one knows that I am playing cricket because no one has seen me play," said Lad, who went to England last year to play club cricket. He has also played in the IPL.
Other stakeholders, including coaches and officials are also glad that the "backbone" of Indian cricket will finally be up and running.
"Holding it in two phases presents a different challenge but it is still a positive development, at least it is happening. Your supply line of cricketers was being affected due to lack of red ball cricket and the situation would be worse if Ranji is not held for another year," Saurashtra coach Niraj Odedra said.
"Looks like there will be a one month break between the league stage and knockouts, so we can use that time to organise a camp, to ensure that players remain in the best shape possible for knock outs.
"There will be rain in June in many parts of the country but the knockouts can be organised in north India but again weather will be an issue there too. So BCCI needs to factor all this and take the final call," he said.
The IPL is expected to begin in the last week of March, which means BCCI is running against time to conduct Ranji Trophy.
Baroda Cricket Association CEO Shishir Hattangadi said the board could go back to three-day format for Ranji Trophy, like it happened in the 70s and 80s to ensure the competition is completed in limited time.
"It looks they might have to tweak the format to restrict movement and travel. Given that the number of days available before the IPL, they might have to go back to three-day format in league stage and knockouts can be of four days. "A full generation of cricketers came up playing three-day cricket. That seems to be the best option given the limited time frame," he said. PTI BS