Fighting for relevance - Duleep Trophy does not serve any purpose anymore

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Fighting for relevance - Duleep Trophy does not serve any purpose anymore

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Bastab K Parida


Named after Shri Duleepsinhji, the Duleep Trophy was once used as a platform for domestic cricketers to reinvigorate their hopes of making it to the national team. However, in recent times, the tournament has gradually moved towards insignificance and doesn’t carry the same meaning anymore.

The final of the 2013-14 edition in Kochi was washed out with just 10 overs being bowled in the match because of incessant rain and a wet outfield. Despite knowing the perils of arranging a match in Kochi at peak monsoon time, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) - to satisfy some egoistic administrators’ demands – had allotted the tournament to Kerala Cricket Association (KCA). North Zone and South Zone shared the spoils in a farcical final, which can also be argued as a lost opportunity for many aspiring first teamers' to showcase their skills. This was one in a long line of backdrop stories that prove that the prestigious tournament is no more than a showcase event now.

Since its inception in 1961-62, the tournament continued without any problem until 1993-94, with the five zonal teams contesting it on a knockout basis. Then, in 2002-03, out went the zones and teams were divided into Elite A, Elite B, Elite C, Plate A, and Plate B. One season later, the zones came back and an overseas team was added. After a gap of one year, the tournament came back in 2016-17, but as a pink-ball, day-night competition between three teams – Red, Blue, and Green, with the best players from the country picked up and distributed among the three. 

The reason behind the 2015-16 edition being taken out of the Indian domestic calendar was that the season entailed a plenty of limited-overs cricket for the national team and the T20 World Cup in 2016 was in sight. Although the purists came out to slam the Indian board for this, this time it was a clear-cut, well-defined and, crucially, transparent approach, given India were not supposed to play no more than four Tests (Three against South Africa at home and one against Bangladesh in Bangladesh) before the new season.

Last year, despite the initial plans to organize a day-night Test against the New Zealand team at the Eden Gardens being shelved, the Sourav Ganguly-led technical committee brought the Duleep Trophy back into the fold, organized with the pink ball in Greater Noida. While the board promised that they will give all the major international players a chance to play the Trophy, they eventually pulled them out once plans for the two-match Twenty20 International series in Lauderhill against West Indies were formalized. 

Something similar happened this year as well. Despite the BCCI event technical committee deciding that they would continue to host the Duleep Trophy – with the pink ball – this season too, there was no mention of the Duleep Trophy in the domestic schedule released by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on August 25. Only after Ganguly’s letter to MV Sridhar, the BCCI general manager of cricket operations, asking why the tournament had been removed from the list of competitions, it was again reinstated in the 2017-18 Indian domestic calendar and will be played from September 7 to 29 in Kanpur and Lucknow. 

Amidst the organizational chaos, it is also a question worth asking – does Duleep Trophy serve any purpose anymore? The Duleep Trophy had a role when the Ranji Trophy was played on zonal lines and players got no more than three or four first class matches. But, now the Ranji Trophy has evolved beyond the intra-zonal stage and has now become a truly national affair with promotion and relegation, and with four participating groups. Zonal systems have also ceased to exist and the principle of having selectors from zones is not active as well since it produced regional rather than national loyalties.

If the primary objective of any domestic competition is to produce the finest possible national team, there needs to be a well-thought approach at the top level to use the best performers and make them ready for the national team. And recently we have got a far more robust and well-planned India A structure, which wasn’t the case till even a couple of seasons ago, and with Rahul Dravid at the helm of the affairs, the programme has been one of the big success stories in Indian cricket in recent times. So, instead of organizing Duleep Trophy randomly, arranging more India A tours and more NCA camps under Dravid and other qualified coaches will obviously be a big boost for the players and will develop the standard of cricket in the country.

Again, the main objective of any team sport is to uphold the values of co-existence and to learn the importance of cheering for things beyond individual glory. However, the Duleep Trophy and the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy last year became less about team and more about individual performances. In any team sport, it is never a good sign.

Further, the Indian board lacks a clear sense of context and plans when it comes to day-night Test matches. And after one season of pink ball Duleep Trophy, it is still difficult to find out whether any tangible gains have been accrued. One of the games last year witnessed just 78.2 overs in four days, another produced 707 in one innings. And, Gautam Gambhir, who led India Blue to the title, stressed that apart from the colour of the ball, nothing else has changed and the pink ball behaved no differently than the red ball. When Gambhir, who has played 58 Tests and has 4,154 runs under his Test belt, says so, the opinion must count. 

So, the best thing is that if you really want to experiment with the pink ball, it is better to organize ‘A’ tours and give at least all your fringe players a chance to give their opinion. Organising it at a time when the national team is fighting it out against a visiting Australian team and the A team is taking on New Zealand A in a four-week schedule, makes no sense whatsoever. Context and relevance are the paramount things in any cricket tournament. And if it is not there, it is better to scrap it completely rather than arranging it to just keep the legacy alive.

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