There’s a romanticism about the scenic beauty of a railway journey that will always retain its charm – for story-telling and imagery even if the hurly burly of the modern world means several would-be rail journey-takers now look for the best low-cost airline option.
Even the flights, though, can get a bit much if you have to criss-cross a country as vast as India over nine weeks, staying for a week each at eight or nine different locations. Of course, when the flights are taken as part of a profession that you love doing, it’s not that much of a bother. Still, if some bright physicists make teleportation workable – a happy by-product of which would be to solve traffic and commute woes – Indian domestic teams will be saved even more travelling time.
And the amount of air-miles that each of the 28 Ranji Trophy teams will cover in the coming season is fairly head-spinning. It’s particularly so this year, with all matches at neutral venues in the schedule announced by the Board of Control for Cricket in India on September 2. The merits and demerits of holding every Ranji match at a neutral venue is a debate for another day – or another column at least. But with the most number of teams in the tournament’s history, and probably the maximum travel with no team having any fixed base, it will be one heck of a busy nine weeks for logistics managers.
It’s certainly not a feat that could be undertaken by the railway traveller, and at one level, shows the growth of the game in India. The first ever Ranji Trophy game, between the erstwhile teams of Madras (now Tamil Nadu) and Mysore (now Karnataka), was over in just a day. Madras won by an innings and 23 runs at Chepauk despite scoring only 130. Legend has it that the Mysore players took the overnight train back and landed in Bangalore before the morning dailies had been distributed. Those who were buying a newspaper at the railway station to check on the progress of the match were greeted by the sight of the team alighting before they could even check the scores – confirmation about the defeat coming in person before it could be consumed in print.
Imagine rail journeys in those days. Had Bob Seger been around then, he could have penned some of the lyrics to his ‘Turn the Page’ just for Ranji teams travelling home after a particularly galling loss.
“When you’re ridin’ sixteen hours
And there’s nothin’ much to do
And you don’t feel much like ridin’,
You just wish the trip was through…”
But this is not about then, it’s about now. It’s about the Ranji schedule that was released by the BCCI a month before the tournament starts. On the one hand, it is a commendable step by the board to have released the full list of fixtures – even if in a slightly tacky and hard-to-read fashion. But the main thing is, the full schedule has been released and those who have a genuine interest in Indian domestic cricket can actually track teams’ progress and chart their paths across venues. The mere act of getting information about which team was playing whom when and where has proved very difficult to the ordinary fan in the past. But on the other hand, you have to wonder if the BCCI is making too much of this back-bencher student method of last-minute cramming. The schedule for the World T20 in March-April was released atrociously late, so close to the tournament that forget overseas fans, even those in India who might have wanted to plan trips around matches would have been hard-pressed to do so. The Indian domestic season, infinitely more complex, has come just a month before the premier domestic tournament is to start. It’s come after the season has begun in fact, with the Duleep Trophy well underway.
“The first ever Ranji Trophy game, between Madras and Mysore was over in just a day. Legend has it that the defeated Mysore players took the overnight train back from Chennai and landed in Bangalore before the morning dailies had been distributed. Those who were buying a newspaper at the railway station to check on the progress of the match were greeted by the sight of the team alighting before they could even check the scores – confirmation about the defeat coming in person before it could be consumed in print.”
Still, you can’t quibble. At least it’s out there. And the fact of it being out there allows people with time on their hands to make a devil’s workshop of the itineraries involved. Train journeys may no longer be a part of cricket matches so much, but while mapping teams and their schedules, I felt very much like someone working for the railways. There was the looking up of the city, ascertaining exactly where and when teams would travel there, and mentally mapping a criss-crossed India. Much like MS Dhoni in his early days as a train ticket examiner, the pull of the actual game was there to draw me away. But eventually, some fascinating patterns did make themselves clear.
So get this: Group C has ten teams, which means there is no ‘rest’ week for anyone and more travel than Groups A and B, who have nine teams each. Thus the Group C teams play each other throughout the nine weeks of the Ranji Trophy league phase, and therefore have the most travelling to do. And yet, curiously – very curiously – there was one team that had a much easier schedule than any of the others. Of the ten Group C teams, seven are going to cover in excess of 7500 kilometres to get to their matches. Hyderabad (7097 kms) and newbies Chhattisgarh (6526 kms) have relatively less ground to cover. And then there is Himachal Pradesh. Their’s is a sweet, sweet deal. From Round 1 to 6, they are in the eastern part of India. For Rounds 7 to 9, they travel west, to Surat, Valsad and Mumbai – all within close proximity to each other. The net result is Himachal’s commute comes to only 4747 kilometres.
It’s probably not going to help them gain a massive advantage over other contenders. But over a long tournament where spots for knockouts typically get decided in the final few rounds, there is something to be said for being well-rested while your opponents aren’t.
That Himachal’s itinerary is an outlier is amply evidenced by the fact that despite being in Group C, they have to cover less ground than all but one of the other teams in the full competition. There are 17 teams in Groups A and B who play one match less, but will cover a lot more ground than Himachal. The identity of the only team that won’t? Gujarat. They have the luxury of being near the Delhi area from Rounds 1 to 5. There is one trip to Pune for Round 6, and then Rounds 7 to 9 all take place in Karnataka. Gujarat will cover a grand total of 3305 kilometres. To put that in perspective, Jharkhand – who surely drew the short straw – have a single journey of 3934 kilometres when they travel all the way from Thiruvananthapuram to Agartala from Round 5 to Round 6.
Oh well, it is after all the season of Jio. If you’re from Gujarat, either your roaming tariff will reduce, or the roaming itself will!