Till not so long ago, it used to be a virtual selection trial. However, for the second time in three seasons, the Duleep Trophy does not find a mention in the Board of Control for Cricket in India's (BCCI's) domestic calendar for the 2017-18 season.
For a better part of the last decade, the BCCI has been ill-treating what has traditionally been one of the most important tournaments in Indian cricket calendar. During the evolution of the Indian Premier League, the inter-zonal tournament was reduced to a knockout tournament from its earlier league format.
Simultaneously, the national selectors had started considering performances for India A more prominently rather than the Duleep Trophy. Still, the tournament offered a lot for a young cricketer, first to be picked for the zonal side and then to rub shoulders with and against some of the bigger names in the game.
However, the BCCI surprisingly omitted the tournament from its 2015-16 calendar. The BCCI had then cited its attempt to plan the domestic calendar in accordance with India's international schedule. Since India was to host the 2016 World Twenty20, the Duleep Trophy was a casualty.
With India set to play a plethora of Test matches at home, the Duleep Trophy returned last year in a new avatar. The tournament saw national selectors picking three squads that played each other in a pink-ball tournament under floodlights.
“I feel it was a success last year. The pink-ball tournament worked really well. And you even got a Test player from it – Kuldeep Yadav. I don't know what has happened this year,” said Amol Muzumdar, the domestic stalwart who has been a part of Mumbai's eight Ranji Trophy-winning campaigns.
No official explanation
While the BCCI has offered no official explanation, according to an executive, the Duleep Trophy would have cramped the schedule and thus deprived teams of an additional day's rest during the league stage of the Ranji Trophy.
However, it's high time the BCCI take a firm stand about the existence of the tournament. For a tournament with a rich legacy of more than half a century, it doesn't bode well to be hosted inconsistently. Not only does it confuse cricketers to set goals for themselves but it also insults the legacy of the former stalwart in whose memory the trophy is named.
If the BCCI feels the tournament has become redundant, then perhaps it can hand over the Duleep Trophy to one of the group toppers of the Ranji Trophy league stage. Or else, it should ensure that the tournament – if not revived – is at least held every year.