Change for the good?

The victorious Central Zone cricket team celebrates after winning the Duleep Trophyfinal against South Zone at the Ferozshah Kotla ground in New Delhi on Sunday, November 02, 2014. The Duleep Trophy doesn't find a place in the domestic calendar this season.-R. V. MOORTHY

The BCCI’s technical committee deserves to be lauded for continually seeking to make domestic cricket more meaningful. It cannot be accused of introducing change for change’s sake, writes Shreedutta Chidananda.

The omission of the Duleep Trophy from the BCCI’s domestic calendar for the 2015-16 season evoked mixed reactions. Some welcomed the move, considering the decision overdue on a competition that had long ceased to matter. Others were critical, hailing the tournament as a bridge between the Ranji Trophy and Test cricket. All the hand-wringing led the BCCI to reiterate the following day that the Duleep Trophy had not been permanently done away with but merely deferred so as to avoid fixture congestion and serve a better purpose.

“India will play 12 Test matches at home in the next Season (2016-17) between October and March. Duleep Trophy will be the curtain-raiser for the forthcoming domestic season and provide a platform for the players to stake a claim,” the BCCI said in a release. “This year’s schedule has been planned to ensure that prominence for various domestic competitions is relevant to India’s international calendar and in particular with India hosting the ICC World Twenty20. BCCI wishes to reaffirm its keenness to add more relevance to the Duleep Trophy in the coming years and to prepare our cricketers for Test cricket.”

This season’s calendar saw a few more changes. The Ranji Trophy’s league and knock-out stages were split by two winter months, with the domestic limited-overs tournaments accommodated in that interval. The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (T20) and the Vijay Hazare Trophy (List A) were restructured, with the Zonal format done away with. The Prof. D. B. Deodhar Trophy was also revamped, and will now be contested by the Vijay Hazare Trophy champion and two other sides to be chosen by the Senior National selectors. These changes have not been made without analysis or consultation with stakeholders and ought to be seen as sensible.

“I’m not a big fan of the Duleep Trophy because it doesn’t have the importance it once had,” says the Assam coach Sanath Kumar. “In our time, the Ranji Trophy was only played on a zonal basis, so players who performed well in one zone were never noticed in other zones. Only the teams that qualified for the knock-outs were followed nationally. At that time, playing for your zone made a huge difference because that was the only thing everybody used to follow. Whereas now, everybody follows the Ranji Trophy. It’s covered so well — on the internet, in newspapers.”

Sanath, who previously coached Baroda and his native Karnataka with distinction, feels opinion about the Duleep Trophy has been guided by nostalgia in many quarters. “It’s named after Duleepsinhji; it has been played for such a long time; a lot of great players have earned recognition playing this tournament — so there is a lot of sentiment.”

His own experience of coaching South Zone, though, has not been particularly exhilarating. “I’ve seen how the players treat the tournament. The commitment was simply not there. They don’t consider themselves as a team because they come from various states. Everyone looks at it in an individual way. It is so difficult to get the players — especially the big players — to come to the practice sessions also. Even during the game, they’re in their own worlds.”

Talented players like Aditya Waghmode missed IPL selection because the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy was played after the IPL auction. Things have been righted this year.-K. PICHUMANI

The decision to give the Ranji Trophy a break during the peak winter months, where games — particularly in the north of the country — were badly affected, makes great sense. One-day or T20 matches do not face the same threat of disruption. Besides, Ranji Trophy sides — which previously had to play non-stop — now get a chance to rest and regroup.

Sanath is pleased that the clamour to schedule the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy before the IPL auction has finally been heard. In the last three years, the domestic T20 competition has concluded only a couple of days before the start of the IPL. “We were suggesting this for a long time. Performances in the domestic T20 tournament never mattered to the IPL teams because everybody had signed their players by that time. And by the next year, whatever a player had done the previous year was forgotten.”

Sanath must understand that better than anyone else, having led Baroda twice to the title in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. “They did extremely well, but the poor chaps never got a chance mainly because of this,” he says. “Justice delayed is justice denied. A player like Murtuza Vahora (highest wicket-taker in the 2011-12 edition) — it’s over for him. He cannot play IPL at all. He was very deserving. Even Aditya Waghmode did so well but never got an opportunity. At least for the future there is a better chance.”

The last time major changes were made to the domestic structure was in June 2012, ahead of the 2012-13 season. The Elite and Plate divisions in the Ranji Trophy were scrapped with three groups preferred instead. The five points that were awarded for an outright win became six (with no change in the bonus point). The quarterfinal and semifinal ties were made five-day matches. At the close of that campaign, the Irani Cup became the season-ending fixture from the curtain-raiser it had hitherto been.

“There hasn’t been that much of a change in the last few years,” says Sanath. “It has been consistent. Three years back we were asking for certain changes and N. Srinivasan (the then President of the BCCI) said: ‘Let us not change it every year. Let us play for three years maybe. Then we can think it over.’”

A new points system for the Ranji Trophy has also been proposed. In May, the BCCI’s technical committee recommended abolishing the system of awarding three points to teams for taking a first-innings lead and instead handing bonus points for scoring 300 runs or taking seven wickets in 85 overs in the first innings. This has been suggested with a view to encouraging attacking, positive cricket. The proposal has polarized opinion and it remains to be seen how things will pan out. At any rate, the BCCI’s technical committee deserves to be lauded for continually seeking to make domestic cricket more meaningful. It cannot be accused of introducing change for change’s sake.