Duleep Trophy, India’s heritage domestic cricket tournament, carries a swag of its own. Having begun in 1961 — at the time of counterculture and The Beatles — the tournament maintained the air of the swinging sixties and created a revolution of sorts. “It was like playing for India and the competition was tougher than Ranji Trophy, as all the cream players from their respective zones formed one team,” former India cricketer Anshuman Gaekwad (1974-1987) told Sportstar in an exclusive chat on the eve of the 2017 edition of the tournament.

The 64-year-old holds the record of scoring the most number of tons (9) in the tourney. He used to represent West Zone. Being the route to the Indian cricket team, it attracted many domestic cricketers. “It helped the selectors assess players who could play for India in future. Scoring runs in a Duleep Trophy match was not easy at all, but if you perform, you know that you will make it to the national team. It was like an automatic selection,” added Gaekwad.

The tournament wasn’t a part of the BCCI calendar in 2014/15. It returned the next season with a tinge of glamour. The BCCI transformed the format. The zones were replaced by three assorted teams — India Blue, India Green and India Red — and the same format will be followed this season.

Abhinav Mukund (Tamil Nadu), Suresh Raina (Uttar Pradesh) and Parthiv Patel (Gujarat) have been named captains of India Red, India Blue and India Green respectively. “It is good that experienced players have been made captains. They can guide the youngsters, but the tournament needs to be in the BCCI calendar every year. As long as the format is not reduced to limited-overs, it is alright. It was made for the longer format. Once we were playing North Zone and the selectors had come to watch on the last day of the match. I got a 100 that day and Bishan Singh Bedi came and informed me that the selectors had waited till the end of day’s play; that’s the importance of Duleep Trophy for you,” reasoned Gaekwad, who also served the Indian cricket team as coach from 1997 to 1999, followed by a brief stint in the year 2000, when he took the boys to Nairobi for the ICC Knockout tournament.

The veteran is elated to watch the current crop do wonders on the field against Sri Lanka. “I think it is a brilliant team filled with youngsters. Most of them are performing. Even the bench strength is great. Ravi (Shastri) is doing a good job. These kinds of performances (Test and ODI series win in Sri Lanka) do not come unless you keep the boys focused,” he added.

However, it remains to be seen whether the youngsters can match up to the heroics of Gaekwad and his contemporaries in the tournament starting on Thursday at the Ekana International Cricket Stadium in Lucknow.

India Red will take on India Green in the first rubber.