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.
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.
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.
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.