What's the sole purpose of having the Challenger Trophy? I'm assuming that it's to test the skill set as well as the temperament of the best 36 cricketers in the country in trying and challenging conditions. But, since this tournament is held in India, isn't it rather ambitious to expect the conditions to challenge the participants?
After all, these grounds are their workstations throughout the year. Perhaps, playing in front of a packed stadium and a huge TV audience could separate chalk from cheese, for many players suffer from stage fright and react differently to such pressure.
Unfortunately, even that can't be achieved with this year's edition of the Challenger Trophy - there's already been a heavy overdose of cricket and with the crowd already giving the Champions League a miss, they'll most certainly stay away from this less attractive domestic tournament. Now, the only thing that can play saviour is the standard of competition.
Then vs now
In fact, that was the soul of this tournament at its inception. The young crop of cricketers were pitted against the best in the country --- if they made a mark there, they had arrived. Piyush Chawla became a household name when he deceived Sachin Tendulkar with a wrong 'un, Sreesanth got an early lesson in not messing with a batsman on song in another edition when he spoke his mind while bowling to Tendulkar - he was duly dispatched to all parts of the ground. There was a time when India Blue was virtually the current India team and any youngster who was making the headlines in domestic cricket was tested by the best in the business. There's nothing more transparent than testing players in tough match conditions, for net sessions and statistics can give you a false account of one's skills. But that's a thing of the past.
Since the senior team is not in a position to participate (the ODI series against England starts a day after the finals of the Challenger Trophy) in this year's edition, the tournament has been reduced to a glorified domestic tournament held over four days and played by the second string cricketers in India. While some of these cricketers are indeed knocking the doors of selection for Team India, there are quite a few who just make up the numbers.
That's why some of the players picked to play in this tournament will not create even a ripple in the years to follow.
Even though, this tournament is a step ahead of the Deodhar Trophy (Inter-Zone limited-over tournament), it still is a far cry from what it used to be or should be. It's more like class X students mixed together and then randomly put into three teams to play against each other. It would only mean playing against the player from your own section (who otherwise would always play with you), while still playing school-level cricket. If one needs to improve or test the standard of upcoming players, it is imperative to play them against better quality opposition.
If it is impossible to find a window of four days in which Team India is free to participate, it would be wise to invite an 'A' team of some other country.
Or how about conducting this tournament abroad, for then even the conditions would test our younger crop. If any of these things isn't possible to achieve, it may not be a bad idea to scrap this tournament completely, for in the current form it's just crowding the already crowded domestic calendar.
(The writer plays for Rajasthan in Ranji Trophy)