With so much of the conversation having revolved not only around the outstanding young Indian cricketers who did well in the Test series, but also those who failed to show up for domestic duty ahead of India’s premier Twenty20 tournament, IPL 2024, discussion over India’s domestic cricket was perhaps at least a few seasons due.

So much of the IPL 2024 talk has been dominated in great part by two sweeping changes. One had to do with the Mumbai Indians franchisee changing their captain without taking their current captain board in a surprise transfer bid.

The other had to do with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) trying to rein in the bolting horse by making sure so-called errant players like Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer don’t have central contracts in their immediate future.

As the IPL weekend begins with much fanfare, one cannot help but notice the din in the background. The voices have gotten louder as the rare five match Test series between India and England wound down with a fair number of young Indian cricketers stealing the limelight.

Where the likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal Sarfaraz Nawaz and Dhruv Jurel shone a bright light on India’s bright talent, not to be overlooked were also the stories on the sidelines of about players like Ishan Kishan not showing up for their Jharkhand team in the ongoing Ranji Trophy championship.

As the list of disappearing names such as the Chahar brothers and Iyer grew, so did the concern amongst the cricket fraternity and the anger within the BCCI over the open defiance of players. That this was largely the making of the BCCI was not in denial but what was of concern was that BCCI’s protracted measures to protect domestic cricket this late in the game and their integrity over the players and the hold on their future which is about fifteen years too late.

In an attempt to not so much as ensure that young cricketers get domestic cricket under their belt before their IPL debut, as much as ensuring that team India cricketers show up for domestic cricket when called upon to do so.

So the BCCI is planning to attach central contracts and the perks that come with it to also showing up for domestic cricket. It will also tie that into how it affects the player’s participation in the IPL going forth.

What is alarming is that while opinions seem divided about whether players should be taking advantage when the systems have been set in place sometimes with gaping loopholes, there has been a call for a revision of the domestic cricket calendar.

This includes the timing of the Ranji Trophy. It is to ensure more players show up rather than shy away to avoid injuries ahead of the IPL. And also to find a way to ensure that the remuneration for showing up for domestic cricket be hiked in revised slabs depending on the number of matches a particular player is required to show up to manage the lure versus national honour balance.

With entry level IPL fees running at 20 lakh rupees, the general consensus is that that the remuneration for showing up for even 40 days work, as Shardul Thakur mentioned about work load being heavy when players have only three-five days break travelling the length and breadth of the country while playing the Ranji Trophy matches on the trot, is simply not on par for it to be enticing enough for starters.

While the BCCI has attempted to block further flagrant violation of rules by revising the rules of earning a central contract, there is also something to be said for other suggested measures including players, not already tied to central contracts, to have state level contracts that would hold them accountable to show up for that state, the imminent IPL opportunity not impeding those prospects.

What has slipped under the radar is that there is a clear collusion between players who don’t want to show up for the domestic cricket matches, and the IPL franchisees. Players have either failed to provide a legitimate excuse or worse still, produced a letter of medical excuse from the franchisee doctors with no way for the central or state cricket boards to verify the injury contention.

That the BCCI has even allowed this to the norm for as long as it has is not unusual for a board that likes to exercise an absolute control but also, shows the gullibility of the world’s richest board in ensuring that its coffers remain overflowing, no matter the cost.

If the BCCI was allowing this, it is obvious why it would choose to look the other way. The BCCI does not allow the Indian cricketers to participate in foreign Twenty20 leagues. Thus ensuring maximum eyeballs, and maximum sponsors, for the currently once-a-year summer sports extravaganza that is more than just its bread and butter.

And the BCCI knows that while it can replace Indian players in the Indian team for national assignments, particularly when it can manipulate scheduling less prolific bilateral contests in the immediate aftermath of the IPL, it owes the franchisees to have India’s best players put their best foot forward. And it works well in the tournament’s showing.

But when diminishing national interests on the part of the players started to reflect badly on the board’s image, it was time to address the issue. That the matter of players not showing up for Ranji trophy was stealing the spotlight from the Test series was grave enough for Jay Shah to openly issue a stern warning, showing just how bad this was starting to look for the board.

It has been the reason why despite ICC/World Cup engagements, the BCCI has been able to do nothing more than send a word of advice the way of the franchisees about managing player workloads.

However, it has the power to impose upon the players the number of matches they can participate in or pull them away from the IPL altogether. This has been done by some foreign cricket boards when there have been similar national engagements, including an important Test series such as the Ashes.

India, on the other hand, have gambled on World Cup preparations, sometimes even dubbing IPL as the dress rehearsal no less. But now, with the BCCI setting up a review committee with a view to understanding player workload, it is certainly making noise in the right direction.

The review committee comprising the national head coach, Rahul Dravid, NCA director, V. V. S. Laxman, chief selector, Ajit Agarkar, and general manager Abey Kuruvilla will first look at how to restructure the domestic cricket structure including the Ranji Trophy which some players have complained about being too tight and therefore, leaving players prone to injury.

What they might also want to look at is not only bringing more players under contract, with appropriate remuneration to dissuade them from making career breaking decisions, but also, see how practical and feasible it would be to hold the Ranji Trophy matches before tournaments of white ball nature.

This is not only from the point of view of the weather, which has afflicted a few teams and matches up north during the winter, but also, of how it might indeed negate the players’ diminished focus with an eye on the IPL. The “IPL scouts” will now also have a long view perspective before the auctions window and ensure better player participation, with the IPL still a fairway away in the picture.