Long-format journeymen hit hard by Ranji postponement, financially and cricket-wise

With the 2021-22 season of the Ranji Trophy currently postponed due to the pandemic, after the tournament was cancelled last term, it has hit hard particularly those domestic players who only play the long format of the game. Not only do they lose out on earnings, their cricketing development is stalled also. Bihar captain Ashutosh Aman is one of them.

A left-arm spinner by trade, Aman bagged 68 wickets in the 2018-19 domestic season, surpassing Bishan Singh Bedi’s 44-year-old record – the former India skipper had 64 scalps during the 1974-75 season – in the process. But two years without first-class cricket has made it a distant memory for the 35-year-old. A lucky few in domestic cricket have IPL contracts, but Aman is not one of them.

“It doesn’t matter if a cricketer is playing the IPL or not. Everybody wants to play the Ranji Trophy and perform well, aspiring to play for the country,” Aman told The Indian Express.

“We work hard for the entire year, but it’s unfortunate that the Ranji Trophy has been postponed again. Still, we are hopeful that soon everything will be under control. The BCCI has also assured the players that they will try their best to organise the tournament.”

Love for cricket

Born in Gaya, Aman’s journey has been an eventful one. His parents wanted him to study and get a decent job. So when after completing school, he got a job with the Indian Air Force, it was accepted as good news. Aman, though, had already fallen for cricket, after watching Sachin Tendulkar on television.

“I was inclined towards cricket since my childhood. I watched Sachin Tendulkar on TV, which triggered the interest. At the time, however, Bihar had very little cricket and as there was no professional cricket played in Gaya, we used to play a lot of tennis ball stuff,” Aman said.

“After completing Class X, I joined the Indian Air Force. Eventually, I came to know that the Air Force has its own cricket team as well. I never played any leather-ball cricket until I joined the Air Force. But some experience in tennis-ball cricket allowed me to make the transition.”

Journey with the airmen

Aman soon started to impress people. “I got selected for the Air Force cricket team and practised with them in Delhi. Selection to the main squad comes via performances in inter-departmental games. I started in 2005-06 and took three years to reach the next level,” he said.

In 2010-11, he got into the Services team, played some limited-overs matches but couldn’t graduate to play the Ranji Trophy.

Bihar tale

Aman returned to Bihar and got into the state Ranji team. “When I came to Bihar on my holidays, the Gaya District Association approached me to play for them in inter-district matches and I agreed. The matches were played at Moin-ul-Haque Stadium in Patna and my performance was very good. An offer came from the state association to appear for the Ranji trials, subject to Bihar getting BCCI affiliation. That eventually happened,” he recalled, adding: “At the time, Pragyan Ojha was the captain of the Bihar team and Subroto Banerjee the coach. They picked me and boosted my confidence. I performed well and became the Bihar captain in that season itself.”

Family’s role

“My family wanted me to study and get a decent job. Initially, I was also focusing on academics but when I got a good job, they all supported me. They encouraged me to play professional cricket,” Aman said.

Now in his mid-30s, he looks after his fitness, workout sessions and diet, and still harbours hope of playing for the country. He is happy that the infrastructure in Bihar cricket “has started to improve”.

“Age is just a number. Wriddhiman Saha is playing Tests at 38 years of age. So, I’m not much concerned about my age. I always hope to get a chance in the future, if I play well. I just focus on the process.”

The quagmire

The Covid pandemic has stalled that process and he is not alone in this quagmire. “It’s not only about the monetary aspects. Our cricketing progress has hit a roadblock. Missing two years of first-class cricket on the bounce can be a big setback for any player. He can lose his form and lose the opportunity to knock on the Indian team’s door. The BCCI compensated the players for last season’s cancellation, which has been sort of 50 per cent. But if you play a full season, at least eight games in the Ranji Trophy, with the match fee being increased to Rs 60,000 per day for the players who have 40-plus games under their belt, one is set to earn around Rs 19 lakh in a season,” senior Bengal batsman Anustup Majumdar told this paper.

His state team-mate Koushik Ghosh, basically a one-format player, rued the postponement. “Yes, we received 50 per cent match money for last season, but haven’t played red-ball cricket this season at all. The biggest problem is that this has been impacting our mindset. You need a different mindset to play first-class cricket.”

Ghosh urged Cricket Association of Bengal to organise the office league, for his job with the Income Tax department is linked to it.

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