Saurashtra beat Bengal in March to lift the Ranji Trophy 2019-20 in the initial days of the coronavirus threat in India. In fact, no spectators were allowed on day five, thus making it a first-of-a-kind domestic match behind closed doors in Rajkot.
Under normal circumstances, most domestic players start preparing for the season by August. There are pre-season tournaments such as Buchi Babu invitational, Dr Thimmappiah Memorial all-India tournament among others. There are mini camps as well.
Since there is no clarity on the format of the tournament — truncated or full or on zonal basis — from the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the new Ranji champion side is clueless how to go about the process to defend the title. There are too many unanswered questions.
“We have no news as yet for domestic cricket camp. We have just received the guidelines from the BCCI but we want to wait till further instructions before resuming cricket,” Himanshu Shah, Honorary Secretary, Saurashtra Cricket Association, told Sportstar on Wednesday.
The Standard Operating Procedure, released by the BCCI, also directed the associations to appoint a Chief Medical Officer who will oversee the implementation of the bio-security guidelines along with the medical staff. He is supposed to be available for the team members should there be a medical need.
Shah feels the CMO is more likely to be a temporary appointment and that the players will be asked to download the Arogya Setu app before training sessions resume. “Medical officer is not a permanent hire. It is only during cricket activities, as and when sessions and matches are there.
“At the same time, we will ask the players to fill up the Arogya Setu declaration as and when it is required,” he said.
SCA lost its star player Sheldon Jackson to Puducherry but it is in no hurry to sign up replacements. “It is too early to talk about new players, if any. There is no decision taken on the new domestic season, so right now, how can we decide on players? We have a good supply line, we won’t face a dire straits situation. We will start the process once the season is decided,” said Shah, admitting that there is no chance of Saurashtra Premier League in the next two months.
In all probability, the hyperlocal domestic T20 competition will happen only in 2021 given the packed calendar with the Indian Premier League from September 19.
The SOP further states that the players need to put up at a hotel close to the ground when the cricket activities resume. It is a concern for Saurashtra coach Niraj Odedra.
“The hotel part is important as most of the players, including me, come from outside [Porbandar in his case, 180 kms from Rajkot]. How they are going to arrange for the hotels is to be seen. There is nothing wrong in starting the game but we have to have clarity from the BCCI. If they say that November this time, we are looking to start, then we can arrange,” he said adding that it may take some time for him to plan the way forward.
“It is good that the guidelines are out but to implement those, it will take some time. Association needs to look into it, appoint the right people and see how to go about it. I think we will start once everything is 100 per cent certain and clear.”
A recent report in an English daily said that the payment for first-class and age-group players have been delayed. It stated that several domestic players from Jharkhand, Mumbai, Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir, Pondicherry, Baroda, Railways, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh hadn’t received their “full settlement” for the last season.
But the champions have received its dues along with the bonus. “All the players have got their salaries, including manager, support staff and selectors. People who have played more than 10 games have got their bonus money too,” confirmed Odedra.
Some of the states, mainly Baroda Cricket Association and Bengal Cricket Association, may get affected due to the ‘no 60-plus’ rule among support staff. It may further delay their cricket restart. BCA roped in Dav Whatmore, 66, as coach for the next season while Bengal reached the Ranji final under the guidance of Arun Lal, 65. For Saurashtra, 69-year-old Karsan Ghavri had decided not to continue as head coach paving the way for Odedra, 45.