To re-energise a grass-root following for the sport, cricket needs an international club championship that is the equivalent of football’s Champions League or UEFA Cup

The corruption crisis consuming Indian cricket might not make this the most propitious time for your columnist to venture onto the cricket field. But regular readers — who might remember this writer’s foray into cricket diplomacy with a United Nations-International Cricket Conference partnership last year — need not fear yet another disquisition on match-fixing, unaccounted money and the like. I am one of those who believe that more than enough has been written on those subjects already, most of it unabashedly speculative. No, what I am most concerned about is not the truth or otherwise of the most lurid charges ever to have marred a sport, but rather, what this has done to the future of the game.

Press reports and anecdotal evidence suggest a major disillusionment with cricket amongst the Indian young. The sport, along with its heroes, has fallen from grace. This has affected both the willingness of today’s kids to follow the sport and — less tangibly — their level of engagement with it. Equipment sales are down, say manufacturers of cricket gear. A nephew of mine, an unusually good cricketer for his age, has turned his energies to swimming instead. If cricket is to survive, it needs once more to capture the imagination and the loyalty of today’s youngsters. It is they who will either abandon cricket or turn out to be tomorrow’s ticket-buying, TV-tuning fans.

So, in keeping with the fine investigative traditions of this column, I turned to two reliable sources deep in the heart of cricket-loving teenland —my twin sons Ishaan and Kanishk. They are 16 and keen followers of international sport, especially soccer and ice-hockey. At the conclusion of an intense, Pepsi-laced brainstorming session, they offered me three ideas to save the game, which I humbly offer to my readers and any cricket administrators who are inclined to listen.

First, Ishaan and Kanishk tell me that to re-energise a grass-root following for the sport, cricket needs an international club championship that is the equivalent of football’s Champions League or UEFA Cup. Every four years — in the fallow period between two World Cups — there should be a one-day competition, not amongst countries but amongst their best club teams (Ranji trophy sides, county teams and so on). Two teams would qualify from each of the eight major Test-playing countries and one each from Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and six non-Test playing countries. The 24 teams would be divided into four leagues of six teams each, with the four winners squaring off in the semi-finals. Imagine a final between, say, Surrey and Karnataka or Lancashire versus the Leewards! And think of the opportunities this would give relatively unknown players to exhibit their talents on the world stage — and for their fans and followers to rekindle their interest in the tarnished sport. If the ICC were to take this on, sponsorship should not be too hard to come by, especially if India were to offer to host the first such tournament.

Of course, this idea requires the rest of the world to agree, but Ishaan and Kanishk had a second thought that Mr Muthiah and Co could deal with on their own. The entry of Bangladesh into the highest level of the game has not been accompanied by adequate opportunities to develop their first-class cricket. In fact, Bangladesh will pick its first-ever Test team (against us) from a bunch of players who have played barely a handful of first-class matches and failed to win any of them. That’s where India can help. Why not invite Bangladesh to join the Duleep Trophy? This would give the players of the newest Test-playing country much more opportunity to develop their expertise in the longer version of the game and bring in new audiences to first-class cricket on the sub-continent. (It would also even the numbers in the Duleep Trophy, which is awkwardly contested by five sides.) In fact, Bangladesh might also want to consider offering two teams for the Ranji Trophy to broaden the base of Bangladeshi cricketers with exposure to three-day and four-day cricket — the real basis for Test selection. This is all easy enough to implement and should generate some much-needed goodwill for Indian cricket as well. How about it, Mr Muthiah?

The twins’ final suggestion might prove a little more controversial. Why not, they say, allow each Indian Ranji Trophy team to hire an overseas professional? It would spice up the game and allow some of the weaker sides to beef up their strength. The novelty would also bring new fans in to watch the foreigners, filling seats in the currently all-but-deserted stadia where Ranji matches are currently played. For the most part, these imports would be Engl

Source: Indian Express