MUMBAI: The start of India’s domestic season couldn’t have been worse. The Duleep Trophy, which the mandarins of the BCCI had conveniently dropped from the domestic calendar, was restored at the last minute at the behest of former India skipper Sourav Ganguly and the CoA. However, the shambolic way in which the tournament, at one point a top fixture in domestic cricket, is being conducted right now, gives a feeling that perhaps there was no point in holding it at all.
There a lot of players absent because either of injury or illness when this edition of the historic tournament is being kicked off in Lucknow on September 7. With the event being scheduled at the last minute, Star Sports, the official broadcasters of the Board, made it clear that they would only telecast the final, which would be played from September 25-29, unlike last year, when it had televised all the games.
The amount of injuries to players, and the busy schedule of the Indian players, as well as the visit of the New Zealand A team to play a series against India A, has left the players so confused that Suresh Raina admitted having no idea who was playing for his team on the eve of the game. To add to the tournament’s woes, the Board has discontinued with the traditional zonal system which was a matter of prestige for the players representing a particular zone. Instead, the players are now divided into three teams India Green, Blue and Red respectively, since last year.
The shabby conduct of the Duleep Trophy has left two former India skippers, and chief selectors – Dilip Vengsarkar and Krishnamachari Srikkanth, completely disgusted. “The BCCI had made a mockery of the Ranji Trophy by staging it at neutral venues last year, thereby not only killing the interest of local spectators but also ensured that the players travel from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to participate in First Class matches,” Vengsarkar told TOI, before adding: “Not to be outdone, from last year, the technical committee changed the format of the most prestigious tournament of the BCCI, the Duleep Trophy by doing away with the zonal system with three teams, India Red, Green and Blue. The Duleep Trophy is supposed to be the most prestigious tournament of the BCCI and more often than not, the selectors picked the national squads after watching the zonal matches, played by the cream of Indian players.”
Recalling the importance of the Duleep Trophy when he was the chief selector, Vengsarkar said: “I remember in 2008, the BCCI had invited the England Ateam as the sixth team in the competition, apart from five zonal teams. The England A team had the likes of Flintoff, Strauss and Monty Panesar. As a result, the standard of cricket went up and domestic players got tested. “Since international cricket is packed with tours and home games, the ideal time to stage the Duleep matches would have been in July-August either at Bangalore or Hyderabad or at Chennai where it doesn’t rain during the time. India Red, Blue and Green, to me, makes no sense.”
Concurring with Vengsarkar, Srikkanth says: “The Duleep Trophy should be given prime importance. It’s a premier domestic event, which is just one step below international cricket. As a player, you want to play for your Ranji team, then in the Duleep Trophy, and from there for Rest of India, or God willing, India. We should go back to playing it in the zonal format, instead of dividing teams into India Red, India Blue and India Green. There’s a different charm and feel to playing for your zone.”