Bangalore: Will this be the season of the great Ranji revival? I am old enough to remember the days when the tournament was played to packed stadiums by full-strength teams and when the average Ranji cricketer was recognised on the streets of Bangalore. Years ago, for instance, N B Laxminarayan, a spinner who played in the same Karnataka team as Erapalli Prasanna and B S Chandrasekhar, was spotted on Commercial Street by a bunch of schoolboys. I might still have the autograph he signed for me.
Somewhere along the line - possibly after India's triumph in the 1983 World Cup, but that is only a convenient and obvious date - the national championship began to lose its sheen. When Tamil Nadu prepared to win their first title after 35 years, in 1989-90, the less than half-full stadium mocked them. Some half-a-dozen players from that squad made it to the Indian team. But not even Sachin Tendulkar is able to fill the stadiums at the major centres, which is why matches are often played, quite sensibly, at smaller venues outside the big cities.
But the Tendulkar generation - not Sachin himself, though - let down the Ranji Trophy, aided to a great extent by the cricket board's focussing its attention on matches which brought in more money and greater television ratings. The calendar was skewed, One-Day Internationals and later Twenty20 took centre stage, and the national championship became just another ritual. Internationals pulled out citing tiredness or lack of interest; it was difficult to blame them entirely for the BCCI itself didn't seem particularly fussed.