Saba Karim, the former India stumper and the BCCI general manager for cricket operations, was in the thick of things as nine new teams were added to the domestic calendar this season. In an interview with The Indian Express, he spoke about the logistical challenges, quality of umpiring and why giving the smaller teams the feel of first-class cricket was important. Excerpts.
How would you describe 2018-19 season?
We had to include nine new teams and that brought in a new set of challenges altogether; in terms of logistics, venues etc. Many of these new teams didn’t have their own home grounds. Because we included them in the domestic schedule, they had to play all tournaments of all formats in all age groups. Plus, financially also we had to help them. It was hugely satisfying to put all those logistics in place to ensure that domestic cricket wasn’t affected.
What did those nine new teams bring to the table?
A new kind of energy. You need to understand that they haven’t played domestic cricket for a number of years. They have had some experience of playing the Affiliate tournaments, but this was a huge opportunity for them to showcase their talent. We basically wanted them to get a feel of the domestic structure. I think to that extent, it has been a huge success.
What is the BCCI doing to ensure that these teams become self-reliant?
Without the support of some of the Full Members, who provided us with the alternate venues, and other private institutes that came out to help us, getting all these new teams to play wouldn’t have been possible. The BCCI provided them with ground equipment, we have offered them assistance in maintenance, we have provided them support in terms of curators and groundsmen. We have also identified the new grounds, where the work has already started. So I think by next season or in a couple of years’ time, most of the new teams will have their own centres. Before the season started, we had organised cricket camps for all the new teams, especially, the North-Eastern teams.
With the increased number of matches, how big a challenge was it to have everything in order?
Just to give you a rough figure, in 2017-18, we had organised 1,032 matches, which amounted to about 1,892 match days in the season window of 219 calendar days; nine matches per day. In 2018-19, there was a monumental spurt in the number of matches. It went to 2,017 matches, which accounted to about 3,444 match days in the season. And the window was only 254 days. So you can understand the increase in match days was 81 per cent and we were able to accommodate it with an increase of 15 per cent in terms of calendar days.
In terms of logistics, it was a huge exercise, because we had to increase the number of umpires, the number of match officials including the scorers etc. In our mind, it was very essential that we include all the new teams, give them equal opportunities to play at all levels and also see to it that it doesn’t dilute the essence of domestic cricket in general.
You spoke about not diluting domestic first-class cricket. But the leaderboard has six batters and five bowlers from the Plate Group, and the majority of them are outstation professionals.
When I say I didn’t want domestic cricket to be diluted, I saw to it that at least in the Ranji Trophy, and also in the U-23 and U-19, only one team from the Plate Group qualified to play in the knockouts. That is one reason why I wanted all the top 28 teams to remain in the Elite division so that domestic cricket is not diluted. Hence, the Plate Group contained only the new teams and they played against each other, so that there’s a complete segregation in terms of quality. However, because we had to give them (new teams) an opportunity to win the domestic tournaments, I took one team from there and made them play the knockouts. Number two, whenever you have professionals in a team, especially in a new team, it becomes important for them to perform. And it is from those performances and the number of days you spend with the professionals, the newcomers learn.
Umpiring standards had been pretty average during the group phase of the Ranji Trophy. How does the BCCI address the issue?
That is the entire vision of the BCCI now. We want to see to it that we are able to develop quality umpires, who can become the ICC Elite Panel umpires in time to come. We have graded all the umpires in Grade A, Grade B, Grade C and Grade D this season and match referees monitor their performance. The newcomers were put in Grade D. So there will be promotion and relegation, and third umpires who don’t do well over a period of time will also be weeded out.