Domestic cricket deserves more respect from stars

Led by Rohit, Mumbai players show the way while Dhoni stays away

With some of the India internationals in action, the Vijay Hazare Trophy final between Mumbai and Delhi drew a large crowd. DH Photo

G R Viswanath wasn’t used to playing in front of empty stands. Whichever team the stylish batsman from Karnataka turned up for -- his club Spartans, the State team or State Bank of India -- the crowd flocked the venue in large numbers.

Viswanath played in an era when domestic cricket's allure was still intact. After his playing days, he has been a witness to a growing lack of appeal among spectators. This is a phenomenon restricted not only to India but other major cricketing nations as well.

A number of factors has contributed to this unhealthy development. Firstly, given the crowded ICC calendar, there has been an overkill of international cricket. And as a result, the overworked internationals rarely play for their state teams. This, in turn, drives the fans away from the stadia.   

The recently-concluded Vijay Hazare Trophy here, thus, came as a breath of fresh air with many star players donning their state team colours, adding lustre to the tournament which saw encouraging footfalls.  

With the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Prithvi Shaw and Yuzvendra Chahal in action, the matches attracted a healthy number of spectators with the final between Mumbai and Delhi drawing easily the largest crowd for a domestic match at the Chinnaswamy in a long time.

It wasn't lost on anyone that the primary reason for such a turnout was the presence of some of the big names. Gambhir is trying to win his India spot back but it was indeed a laudable decision by some of Mumbai’s star players to make time for the Vijay Hazare matches. Rohit played the quarterfinal and semifinal in the short gap he had before the ODI series against Windies while Rahane and Shaw flew into Bengaluru immediately after the second Test, which ended in three days, to join the squad.  

Viswanath was delighted to see the big crowd for the final.

“The crowd is always important,” Viswanath told DH. “You get that adrenaline rush when you see the crowd backing you. When you perform and if there’s a crowd to appreciate it, it’s a 'high' only a player can experience,” he said.

In that light, Viswanath felt it was important for internationals to accommodate domestic cricket in their schedule as much as possible.

“There are no two ways about that,” Viswanath said firmly when asked if internationals need to care more for domestic cricket. “You shouldn’t forget the place you come from. In our days, a few of us not only played for our State but for our clubs as well. So many times we have come in the early morning after playing for Karnataka or India and straightaway gone and played for State Bank of India the same day. It was not a show-off for us, it’s just a feeling of belonging. That’s what drove us to play for our clubs and State even after playing for India. That sense of gratitude should be there. I was happy to see some of the Mumbai players coming and playing in Vijay Hazare but at the same time, a few of the players gave it a miss. I am not for it,” he elaborated. 

While it’s difficult to expect the international cricketers to regularly play for their state teams, they shouldn’t either completely ignore it, like M S Dhoni did by staying away from Jharkhand’s knockouts campaign for reasons best known to him. A player of the stature of Dhoni not only makes a positive difference to his team by his mere presence, but also raises the profile of the tournament. Domestic cricket shouldn't just be used to climb the ladder of success or as a platform to make an international comeback after being left out of the senior national team. It deserves to be treated with more sensitivity and certainly more respect.   

 

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