Cricket - Ranji Trophy final
A motley crowd in attendance to watch the Ranji Trophy final at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. Image Credit: Gautam Bhattacharyya/Gulf News

It was really a pleasant surprise for me to see a 500-odd crowd thronging the terraces on a weekday afternoon at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. The Ranji Trophy final in progress did not feature ‘home’ team Karnataka, neither the two centurions for Madhya Pradesh out in the middle - Yash Dubey and Shuvam Sharma - were the big boys of Indian cricket by any stretch of imagination.

Now on a personal visit to the garden city, I found the gathering a motley one on Friday - ranging from a gaggle of college students dropping in the venue with no priced tickets, serious students of the game from the adjoining National Cricket Academy (NCA) to a huddle of raucous youth with their Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) shirts on. If you wondered where the loyalty quotient came from, it was for Rajat Patidar - MP’s top order batter - whose blazing century for RCB in the Eliminator of last IPL at the Eden Gardens was one of the most talked about innings of the league last season.

Any brand recall of IPL, which has often been blamed for killing India’s domestic cricket over the last decade, began and ended with that little bit of adulation for Patidar. This was more of a parallel universe of cricket in India - with a sense of purity about it - far removed from the razmatazz of the richest franchise league of the world. The grind here is of a different nature where patience is the biggest virtue for the batters as the battle is more often for the crucial first innings lead while the bowlers’ job is not made easy with the pace of the wicket and the slow turn.

Well, Ranji Trophy - the blue riband of domestic contests - was always a platform for the discarded international cricketer to find his way back into form in front of empty stands. It still serves it’s purpose but the priorities have changed – as it’s more of standout performances in white ball tournaments like the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy or Vijay Hazare Trophy - which is name of the game for the talent scouts of IPL teams.

The likes of Dubey and Sharma, the two heroes of the unfancied MP team, are very good cases in point. Ask a fan on the street to name a MP player off the cough and you will hear Venkatesh Iyer (now in Ireland on national duty) and now Patidar, thanks to their exploits in the IPL. The likes of the Dubey-Sharma duo, whose second wicket partnership of 222 runs raised the visions for an unlikely win them as Sharma struck his fourth century of the season and Dubey his second but would remain the quintessantial unsung heroes.

Talk about the importance of Ranji Trophy, one would be appalled to know that the final of the tournament is being played without a Decision Review System (DRS), as the richest board of the world felt it would be too expensive for them. A few decisions over the first three days, including that of a ‘life’ to Mumbai centurion Sarfaraz Khan had already raised eyebrows - but it all depends on how big the stakes are in the eyes of the powers that-be.

Talk about a parallel universe in Indian cricket - it is here!