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Of placid wickets and a tight schedule

December 03, 2008 19:35 IST

It was exactly a month back, on November 3, that the Ranji Trophy Super League games commenced. One month down the line, five rounds are over and bowlers are cringing; the resultant frustration is obvious.

A tight international schedule, with an increasing number of tours and the Indian Premier League and Champions League to boot, essentially means an adverse impact on the home games and a tighter domestic schedule.

So, the Ranji season this fall has been reduced by a week vis-a-vis last year, with just three days' gap between two fixtures. 

Add to that the docile nature of the wickets and, subsequently, high scoring, albeit not-so-competitive matches and there definitely has to be some raised eyebrows and a lot of displeasure.

In this case, the batsmen are not complaining. Most of the wickets are placid and runs are being scored in abundance. The emphasis is not as much on winning as it is on taking the first innings lead and the points that come with it. And most teams have batsmen, who, thanks to the tailor-made wickets, can ensure the same.

It's the bowlers who are left in the lurch. They are trying hard, on not-so-responsive tracks, and getting less or no reward for their efforts. Moreover, they are challenging their body beyond limit and, at more times than one, paying the price for it. No wonder they want more space in between matches.

"You cannot have seven games in the space of 45 days with just two-to-three days' gap in between," reasons Ajit Agarkar. "In that case, for a team that makes it to the final, it will be 10 games in just over two months.

"In that case you are just waiting for an injury to happen and that essentially means missing the rest of the season."

The Mumbai all-rounder, after a superlative unbeaten 77 against Hyderabad, was so tired that he refrained from bowling his usual quota.

Hydearbad's M P Arjun, who toiled for five sessions and took four for 99 in the same match, concurs.

"Even in the last season it wasn't as tight," he reasons.

A lot has been said and written about the nature of the wickets and there was open criticisms as well -- as happened when Mumbai captain Wasim Jaffer and spinner Ramesh Powar went public over their dissatisfaction of the wicket at Rajkot in their match against Saurashtra.

The latter scored 643 for four and Mumbai had to pull all strings to save the match and earn a point.

Agarkar, for once, was relieved about that match.

"I didn't play at Rajkot as I was sick," he smiles, before adding tongue-in-cheek, "But it wasn't a bad game to miss."

It is not that there haven't been sporting wickets at all.

In fact, in the recent match between defending champions Delhi and Orissa, in Delhi, the pitch was such that it devoured 40 wickets in just two days. More importantly, the match witnessed Test regulars Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir bat like novices and fall cheaply in both the essays.

Prior to that, the match between Orissa and Punjab at Bhubaneswar witnessed the latter muster just 60 in their first innings and surrender the match subsequently.

But such cases have been few and far between. And that is something that leaves Agarkar baffled.  

"I don't know why teams prefer batting-friendly wickets," he says, despite knowing the obvious. "

Maybe they are not comfortable facing the moving ball.

"I'm missing the Wankhede wicket. Even the CCI -- where we played our first game against Rajasthan -- had a lot more than the ones we have played in subsequently. At least there was something in it for the spinners if not for the fast bowlers."

But, as in the case with most things in India, the problem in this case has been identified, discussed at length and debated upon endlessly, but there seems to be no solution to it. The bowlers may complain about the wickets but they are also equally surprised at the amount of runs being scored therein.

"If you see the scores in matches this year, they have been phenomenal," admits Agarkar.

Guess, the point has already been made.

Bikash Mohapatra