The inter-zonal Duleep Trophy --- long ago a prestigious selection trial tournament --- has been tried out in many formats (knock out, league, jumbled teams with an overseas team from England, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe). Batsmen amassed runs, bowlers bagged wickets aplenty in the Ranji Trophy with an objective of impressing the selectors and making it to their zonal teams. They felt extremely proud. But after 51 years, there’s a palpable feeling among the fraternity that the Duleep Trophy named after Kumar Shri Duleepsinhji is not anymore a big attraction for senior cricketers, although Bengal and East Zone seamer Shami Ahmed was selected in the India A’ team for the tour of West Indies on the basis of his eight wicket haul (4 for 73 and 4 for 50) in this year’s Duleep Trophy final against Central Zone.
There have been suggestions in the recent past to drop the Duleep Trophy from the cricket calendar, but the tournament can be made a meaningful platform exclusively for `A’ teams (under-25 age group) with a rule that each zone must field at least two or three under-19 players.
Last week two former India captains, retired first class cricketers and administrators gave shape to the way the Ranji Trophy is likely to be played from the 2012-12 season. After a fairly long run of ten years in the Elite (Super) and Plate League format, India’s premier National champion is all set to have an altered look. The new structure as proposed by the Special Committee and the Technical Committee is meant to brighten up the matches, making it a level playing field for the batsmen and bowlers with special attention to be paid to the surface across all venues in the country. It’s almost certain that the Working Committee will adopt the recommendations.
Having played their first first class match some 22 years ago and plenty of Tests and one-day internationals Sourav Ganguly (Chairman, Technical Committee, BCCI) and Anil Kumble (Special committee member appointed by the BCCI President) bring immense value to the respective committees While the technical committee has players in Roger Binny, Venkatapathy Raju, Shantanu Sugwekar, Rahul Sapru, Arup Bhattacharya, the special committee members other than Kumble were Niranjan Shah, Mohinder Pandove, Prof, Ratnakar Shetty and Sanjay Jagdale. Shah, Pandove and Jagdale have played first class cricket.
One will always find carping critics point a finger at the what they feel are shortcomings of anything new, but a closer look at the three-tier system with Group `A’ consisting the best teams indicates that it is not far from the first suggestion by Sunil Gavaskar ten years ago. As Chairman of the Technical Committee then, the champion batsman had proposed that ten teams (two best teams from each zone) would play the Elite League and the remaining 17 in the Plate League. But some of the full members shot down the proposal. The ten-team Elite League was discussed at length by some well meaning members of the BCCI two years ago, but it did not make headway.
The proposed new structure has been created in the wake of India’s two overseas defeats in England and Australia. The Zal Irani Cup (Ranji Trophy winner and Rest of India), Ranji Trophy (first class) and inter-state (50 overs and Twenty20 must remain the heart of the domestic tournament for senior cricketers. With sporting wickets, the Ranji Trophy donated by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, hopefully would provide for keen contests. Committees can suggest a thousand ways to improve standards, but eventually the quality of a contest hinges largely on the 22 players who play a match.
The positioning of the Irani Cup is also correct. The late Polly Umrigar was of the opinion that the Ranji Trophy winner must have some incentive to win the Irani Cup and hence it should get an opportunity soon after the Ranji finals, not not after eight months at the start of the season.
Keywords: inter-zonal Duleep Trophy