How good is the Duleep Trophy? On paper, a tournament between five zonal teams comprising of the best players from each of them ought to be good, right? Then why are the voices calling for the scrapping of this coveted tournament getting louder by the day? Since most of these appeals are straight from the players, something must be hugely amiss. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.
What is it about the Duleep Trophy that displeases its participants? Has the standard of competition reduced? Is it crowding the domestic calendar? Or has it ceased to make sense? Let’s delve into the issues plaguing this premier domestic tournament.
A few years ago, the Duleep Trophy was at its peak with its round-robin league. All zones played each other on a home and away basis, which gave players enough opportunities to perform and tested their mettle in different conditions. Since the tournament was at least four weeks long, the assortment of players would begin to function as a team, which is essential to producing competitive cricket.
In the current scenario, the Duleep Trophy is a knockout tournament — two teams play only one match each, two teams can play a maximum of two matches each and only one team can play three matches. So how much would you read into the performances in the Duleep Trophy when most players get only a couple of innings to showcase their wares?
Are a couple of innings a suitable reward for scoring heavily or taking a bagful of wickets in the Ranji Trophy? For instance, if Central Zone lose their first match, both the highest run-scorer and the highest wicket-taker of the Ranji Trophy will get only one chance as a reward for their hard work. Moreover, crucial national selections are based on Duleep Trophy performances. Is this fair?
At Rahul Dravid’s behest, thankfully, the Duleep Trophy is now played with the Kookaburra ball instead of the SG Test ball, which is still used in the Ranji Trophy. It was wonderful to let our domestic players get a taste of the Kookaburra, a ball that behaves radically different from the SG Test ball.
While the SG Test ball responds the best to swing bowlers who rely on ‘release’, Kookaburra is best for the ‘hit-the-deck’ bowlers. SG rarely swings when new, but moves in the air after getting a little old. On the contrary, Kookaburra moves the most when new and ceases to swing when old.
Bringing in the Kookaburra was a novel idea. But playing with it just once a year isn’t enough to modify the skills of a bowler who uses an SG ball the rest of the year. Even if he adapts well, he is most likely to forget his lessons soon. This is because his muscle memory isn’t sharp enough to register the changes and remember it for a year. And starting from scratch year after year isn’t a great idea after all.
In The ‘Zone’
A few years ago, the league stage in the Ranji Trophy was zonal. Hence a zonal team for the Duleep Trophy meant something. Most players in a team would have played with or against each other in the Ranji Trophy, and there was a sense of cohesiveness within zonal teams. But now, the Ranji Trophy is divided into the Elite and Plate groups based on a team’s performance. So selecting the best players within a zone makes little sense because they would know little about each other — a situation not ideal for team sport.
How can one treat performances in the Elite and Plate groups equally? Also, as it happens, the bigger teams tend to influence the zonal team selections more. No matter how Mumbai, Delhi, Punjab and UP fared in the Ranji trophy — this year, they didn’t qualify for the Ranji knock-outs — they always find the maximum representation in zonal teams. How else would you explain five players from UP making the Central Zone team while Rajasthan (who’ve won the Ranji Trophy two years in a row) have just four? Curiously, one of those four may not even find a place in the XI.
It’s only wise to shelve this tournament for good — it’s a dead rubber. The way forward is to have only one four days’ tournament — the Ranji Trophy, and develop it to add more meaning to it.