After the arrival of T20 cricket, the amount of international cricket being played accross the globe has gone up and as a result of which domestic cricket particularly in India has taken a back seat in last decade. This issue is faced mostly in India, as the current top rung cricketers here, almost totally have kept away from the premier fast class cricket tournament , Ranji Trophy.
In past decades , earlier generation’s younger fans have witnessed great legends like Gavaskar and Kapil Dev compete furiously in Ranji trophy even at their peak and in those days big test series used to be 6 match affairs apart from fair dose of ODI cricket. (Between May 1979 to February 1980, India played 17 tests apart from 1979 World cup ,which never happened since !!! ) Later Tendulkars, Gangulys, Laxmans tried to play in Ranji whenever they had no international commitments . Those were the bygone days. In the current scenario, the Indian players tend to take long breaks in absence of international cricket, posting pictures in social media and hardly care to represent their state in domestic cricket. In today’s world apart from the odd marquee series, most other test series happens to be 2 or 3 match affairs and T20I games finish off in 3 hours.
One cannot recall when was the last time former Indian captain MS Dhoni played his last Ranji game — may be a decade back. Current Indian captain Virat Kohli played his last Ranji match in 2012-13 season and then never turned up. Too much of international commitments is given a reason for skipping Ranji trophy. This leads to a lot of counter arguments. The same Virat Kohli hardly misses a match when IPL goes on and even scored a 100 with a seriously injured hand in one IPL game ,couple of seasons ago. Also look at the current example of Australian cricketers who were subject to gruelling itinerary in past one year, playing, matches vs India and Srilanka at home, again vs India in India, then World cup and finally the mentally sapping 5 test Ashes but still their top players are currently playing domestic cricket in between T20I series. Special mention to Steve Smith who scored 774 runs in Ashes and awesomely hardworking fast bowler Pat Cummins who hardly misses a game.
Coming back to India with an example , when Shikhar Dhawan was struggling for form earlier this year he did not play in available matches in Ranji trophy to get back his flow.
Kohli recently mentioned having tests in major centres only which seems to indicate that some top Indian cricketers are a bit averse to playing first class game in lesser and more remote cricket centres which may not be having the best of staying facilities . Many Ranji games are played in semi rural towns and the presence of a top cricketer in that game will surely draw people to the ground. It may be mentioned that Sachin Tendulkar played his last Ranji game at Lahli ,in North India, and surely a large percentage of people heard the name of that place after Sachin went and played.
Playing first class domestic cricket will give the top Indian players much better match exposure than even playing against some current substandard international teams as India has developed good bowling talent in recent years in first class cricket. Moreover , only a small percentage of first class cricketers get to play in IPL , hence if a Virat Kohli plays a Ranji game ,it will immensely benefit his state players playing alongside a top legend and help in their development. A Bengal Ranji team comprising of a Mohammed Shami, Dinda and Ishan Porel can give a Rohit Sharma or a struggling Shikhar Dhawan better contest than a Srilanka or a Bangladesh attack. Not that we should stop playing against the above countries but time has come for BCCI to do a balancing act and convince our International players to play more first class cricket with the Australian example right in front of them. Maybe a compulsory number of domestic matches for all the players under the BCCI preview should help.
This is not to criticise or downgrade our fantastic international cricketers , but they also owe something to their states from where it all started for them. If they can show terrific commitment for their IPL franchisees, even a quarter of that will help their state teams.