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Aakash Chopra - Domestic cricket is driving Indian cricket

The former India opener writes about his experiences in the domestic circuit

If you want to assess a cricket team, you should look at their bench. And if you want to assess a cricketing nation, have a closer look at their domestic circuit. The stronger it is, the stronger the team and the nation is likely to be. Indian cricket's biggest asset isn't the legends that have donned the Indian colours but the robust Ranji Trophy that has ensured that the pipeline was always brimming with talent. And that brings me to the reasons that make Indian domestic circuit one of the best in the world.

27 teams

There's a lot of debate about how too many teams dilute the quality of competition, for there simply aren't enough quality players available. But I'm of the opinion that for a country of 1.3 billion people it's unfair to reduce the number of teams in the circuit. On the contrary, numbers are India's biggest strength. There's a lot of merit in providing cricketers from far-flung areas an opportunity to showcase their skills. If that weren’t the case, players like Dhoni and Zaheer would never have played for India. Yes, some teams can do a bit more to improve their standard but there's enough merit in having a bigger pool.

Senior players

While domestic cricket is, quite rightly, considered to be the breeding ground for future stars, it's worth remembering that the senior pros are the real soul of Indian cricket. The likes of Devendra Bundela, Rashmi Ranjan Parida, Mithun Manhas, S Badrinath, Wasim Jaffer etc. are ones who not only keep the younger players honest but also prepare them for bigger challenges. These players are doing a yeomen service of Indian cricket for decades, for they keep playing only for their love of this wonderful sport. There's hardly anyone in the stadium to applaud their feats but that hardly deters them from surrendering their entire life to cricket. They are the ones who soak in the pressure that allows the younger lot to find their feet and then quietly disappear in the background to let the youngster take centre-stage.

Reward

The biggest boost to Indian cricket happened when the BCCI increased the domestic monies. Nowadays a domestic cricketer can dedicate all his time on the game without worrying about making enough money to take care of his family, for he's handsomely paid for his efforts. There was a time when employment wasn’t an issue for cricketers, for Nationalized Banks and some Public Sector companies were happy to hire cricketers to represent their cricket teams but now, that has changed. There’s very little employment available for cricketers who play for a living. There are many cricketers who know that they would never play for the country but still put their heart and soul into this game because that’s the only way for them to bring food on their table.

Every season we see new faces making an impression and old faces reinforcing their importance to the circuit. If you’re a true fan of Indian cricket, you should doff your hat to these men. Domestic cricket is the ‘invisible’ force that’s driving Indian cricket.

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Suresh Raina - Domestic cricket is a learning ground

India player and UP captain reflects on his journey
Suresh Raina of India raises his bat after scoring a half century during day two of the second test match between India and New Zealand held at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru on the 1st September 2012..Photo by Pal Pillai/BCCI/SPORTZPICS

I have learnt a lot from domestic cricket since the time I was very young. When I first played, I played a lot with international stars like, (Mohammad) Kaif bhai, Gyanendra Pandey, Rizwan Shamshad and Nikhil Chopra, who was also playing at the time. We had come from playing for India U-19. When you play domestic cricket you learn little things from senior players that help you.

Sometimes it is tough, but you learn. It reflects in your character. You have to keep up the intensity while you learn a lot of things along the way. Cricket is the one thing that is always on the mind whether the conditions are hot or cold or regardless of what else is going on. You enjoy it; it is your passion. It is in your thoughts even when you sleep; it is in your heart whether you are playing for India, UP or in the IPL or India ‘A’. I think it comes from within.

When you travel to various parts of the country you come across different things. There are different pitches and different challenges. You have to think and practice differently for each of them. A lot of different things start happening, but now everyone is a professional. With so much cricket being played all around, you too have to change your approach and thought process. For that half-an-hour in the night you think about the opposition’s bowling attack, what the pitch is like and how you will be preparing yourself. When you plan and get up in the morning it automatically works in your sub-conscious mind. Some are able to do it some are not. Some do it after coming to the ground, some do their thinking in their rooms and or some come for the match and then do it. It is a matter of mental strength for the player how he does it; whether he does it while talking to his wife, or discusses with a friend or while eating. Everyone will have their own way of doing it and preparing themselves.

There is a lot of cricket that one has to manage outside as well before entering the field. Playing domestic matches is a challenge in itself wherein there are adjustments to make. But when you are ready to go and want to play you can do it. When you are working on something and planning for something it works out, it comes naturally to me. Now everyone is a professional, a few days of practice and everyone is ready to shift gears as required. It is challenging but you have to go out there and play otherwise you will get caught in the trap of thinking.

You need to respect your team-mates, the game, as well as well as the umpires and everyone and everything around it. I have learnt all of that from playing in the Ranji Trophy. Now things have become even better. As a captain I just had one meeting with the umpires after so many years and things are different. There is difference in other things as well, cameras are put in place everywhere by BCCI and that is very good. Everything is going to the officials, they are watching everything. It’s very important to have a look into everything. It’s good to see that BCCI is placing so much importance on domestic cricket. 

The BCCI is also looking into like ball tampering and dissent shown to the umpire. When you are saying ‘no’ there is nobody there to cheer you up, you have to just pick yourself up. And when you are the captain of the side you lift others up as well (when things are not in your favour). It comes naturally to me and I always enjoyed that. 

I have learnt the good things, the respect from my seniors, and my dad. He always told me that one should respect their seniors no matter what. Even if they are abusing you or telling you something you don’t like, it will be good to just listen and never ever say anything back to them. The family culture has always been like that. I learnt the same in hostel as well. If anyone says anything to me it’s not good to talk back. I will listen. Sometimes it’s better to listen to some things no matter what. If it is good you can take it in, if it’s bad leave it. 

There are many things that you miss at the international level that you did while playing domestic cricket. Now I am learning good things from all the youngsters. Everything feels good for someone who has earned it from doing the hard yards at the grass root level. Playing at the domestic level is pretty tough, but hard work pays you off. There are many things in domestic cricket that are good for you and help you grow. You get to play with international stars. Then there are people like Reetinder Sodhi here, who are around. He is the third umpire for the match between Mumbai and UP. There is Mritunjay Tripathi, who is our coach and some others who are U-19 World Cup champions with me and you get to interact with people like them. 

You then get to see people from opposition teams sitting and having a good laugh and chatting during non-match days, off the field. At the Wankhede here, Rohit Sharma, Praveen Kumar and Piyush Chawla are sitting together. That is a good and fun environment to be in. It always lightens things up. The same people who were sitting together are having a good time all of a sudden become fierce and competitive, looking very sharp on the field. 

Suresh Raina First Class records 

First-Class Career Batting and Fielding

M

I

NO

Runs

HS

Ave

100

50

SRate

Ct

 

87

143

9

5796

204*

43.25

13

37

61.16

95

First-Class Career Bowling

Balls

Mdns

Runs

Wkts

BB

Ave

5wI

10wM

SRate

Econ

 

2911

81

1448

36

31-Mar

40.22

0

0

80.86

2.98


Suresh Raina Under 19 records 

U19 Test Career Batting and Fielding

M

I

NO

Runs

HS

Ave

100

50

SRate

Ct

 

3

4

0

179

72

44.75

0

2

51.58

1

U19 Test Career Bowling

Balls

Mdns

Runs

Wkts

BB

Ave

5wI

10wM

SRate

Econ

 

132

6

87

1

31-1

87

0

0

132

3.95

U19 ODI Career Batting and Fielding

M

I

NO

Runs

HS

Ave

100

50

SRate

Ct

 

14

13

0

328

90

25.23

0

3

80

11

U19 ODI Career Bowling

Balls

Mdns

Runs

Wkts

BB

Ave

4wI

5wI

SRate

Econ

 

540

7

330

7

23-2

47.14

0

0

77.14

3.66

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