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Make the Challenger challenging

By Faisal Shariff
September 15, 2003 18:49 IST
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The season-opener Challenger Series concluded on Sunday evening with a boring, one-sided final between India 'A' and India 'B'.

What did the series achieve? What was the point in playing the tournament on flat batting wickets?

Of the four games played, three saw scores in excess of 300 runs.

Are we serious about unearthing quality fast bowlers or merely content with producing more flat-track bullies?

"Why should the spinners be given turning tracks or the fast bowler be given bouncy wickets? If they are good they should perform anywhere," a selector argued, while discussing the nature of the wickets the Challenger series was played on.

Of course, the bowlers are not asking for turning tracks or hard Australian wickets. What they want is just sporting wickets, where bowlers and batsmen have a fair chance of exhibiting their wares.

Former chairman of the grounds and pitches committee G Kasturirangan rubbished the tracks prepared for the Challenger.

"The wickets had very low bounce. Too much grass on the wicket is also bad for the game," he said.

Apart from the fact that the senior players got a decent run before the big matches ahead, and the juniors had a chance to understand what goes into the making of a professional cricketer, the Challenger series was a disaster.

Though no one went on record to express their displeasure about the format of the series, many felt it is flawed.

Former India selector T A Sekhar has a suggestion to make the series more competitive.

"Four teams -- India 'A', India 'B', India 'C' and the Under-19 -- play the tournament instead of the current three," he says. "It will feature the best 56 cricketers in the country. Four matches will be played and whoever gets Sachin [Tendulkar], Sourav [Ganguly], [Rahul] Dravid and [VVS] Laxman out should be looked at closely.

"And why restrict play to one-day alone? Have a four-day tournament as well.

"All the four-day games should be played at one Test centre, on a green top and a turning track; both should be good wickets. Try the cricketers out on both wickets; see how they cope with the wickets and make your call. It could be a forerunner to the season. It will generate a lot of interest with spectator participation.

"The winner of the tournament should then play the Rest of India team. The details can be worked out and what we could unearth is a clear picture of Indian cricket.

"It is very important to instill a sense of pride in every performance and every match."

Quite right. Indeed, the Challenger Series has the potential of surpassing all other domestic tournaments with such a format and participation of all the leading players.

How many times have Mumbai, Karnataka and Bengal had the services of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly respectively in one Ranji season?

With a tournament like what Sekhar has mooted, public interest in the Challenger could be exponential and give the BCCI more pride in talking about its domestic circuit.

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Faisal Shariff

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