The Duleep Trophy was one of the last tournaments scheduled by the Indian cricket board this year. It was held almost as an afterthought when technical committee member Sourav Ganguly and the Committee of Administrators (CoA) insisted on conducting the tournament, which may otherwise have been shelved.
However, hosting it at Kanpur and Lucknow threw up a wrong-place-wrong-time situation when the northern belts of the country are not done with the monsoons.
A general view of the Duleep Trophy day-night match between India Green and India Red, played with the pink ball at Greater Noida last year. Pic/AFP
Incidentally, the first ever Duleep Trophy was also conducted in September — but not at the start of the month — way back in 1961. On September 30, South Zone's ML Jaisimha faced the first ball of the zonal tournament from North's R Surendranath at Chennai's Nehru Stadium.
Scheduling of events has become harder for the Board's Tours and Fixtures Committee. There's more games to pack in and one cannot do full justice to all tournaments. However, the Duleep Trophy needs to be handled with care, simply because it is the most prestigious longer duration domestic tournament after the Ranji Trophy.
It's an event drenched in tradition. Over the years, it has lost its zonal impetus and foreign teams have competed in it too. That's not such a bad thing as long there is keen competition. This year's rain-affected edition cannot boast of a well-contested affair with absolutely no star value. Thank heavens for Mumbai's teenaged batsman Prithvi Shaw, who ignited some level of interest through his debut hundred in the tournament.
The BCCI must do whatever is in their control to add more meaning to the Duleep Trophy. For starters, don't host it at places where a rain threat looms large, and try and sprinkle the teams with some India players. Another imperative action in my opinion is to stop naming the teams after colours. The Duleep Trophy is no school sports meet.
On one hand, the BCCI has introduced the pink ball innovation in the Duleep Trophy. On the other, they continue to name the squads Red, Blue and Green. The administrators should name the teams after great players, especially those who figured in the Duleep Trophy with distinction. Sunil Gavaskar, who decorated the tournament with his participation from 1972 to 1986, averaged 61.96 in 22 games. Surely, a team can be named after him.
And has India done enough to honour the match-winning exploits of BS Chandrasekhar, who claimed 99 Duleep Trophy wickets? Why not honour this genius by having a BS Chandrasekhar XI? His Karnataka teammate Syed Kirmani played in the Duleep Trophy for nearly two decades. How about letting a wicketkeeping great be honoured?
While the BCCI can continue stretching every sinew as it were in cracking big financial deals, they ought to be 'historic' in their handling of certain aspects. It should never be forgotten that the Duleep Trophy was used as a measure for talent and temperament before important Test series.
South Zone's Kenia Jayantilal, the all-rounder who was part of India's victorious 1971 squads to West Indies and England remembers how the then chairman of selectors Vijay Merchant delivered the news of his selection for the West Indies tour on the day he turned 23, after the 1970-71 Duleep Trophy final.
Not all selections were sweet. Before the start of the above final, Merchant summoned East Zone captain Ramesh Saxena at the Brabourne Stadium and instructed him to include wicketkeeper Rusi Jeejeebhoy in the playing XI which may have resulted in regular wicketkeeper Daljit Singh losing his place in the Caribbean-bound team. Daljit played that final as a batsman and Jeejeebhoy ended up getting picked for the West Indies tour. Interestingly, Daljit is in Lucknow for the ongoing Duleep Trophy as curator of the Ekana Stadium.
The Duleep Trophy is a tournament named after a man who attracted the cricket world's admiration when he batted for England. Later on, he guided Indian cricket in the early miles of their Test journey. He passed away in 1959 after setting up a course for coaches.
In fact, it was KS Duleepsinhji who prescribed another tournament for our cricketers apart from the Ranji Trophy. More than a decade later, it came to fruition.
I don't intend to be overly harsh on administrators. While their shenanigans have been well documented, they too have contributed to the growth of Indian cricket. But what Duleepsinhji said in his speech at the inauguration of the Duleep School of Cricket at Porbandar in 1947 holds true. "In India," he is quoted as saying in a commemoration volume titled Duleep — The Man and his Game, "we are mesmerised by gold cups and trophies. The authorities feel that once they have produced a cup and arranged a tournament, their work is over."
The Duleep Trophy is begging for a kiss of life. The colour of the ball will play only a supporting role in the tournament getting back in the pink of health.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to email@example.com
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