Gautam Gambhir last played Test cricket over two years back. Suresh Raina last donned whites for India in January 2015, after a hiatus of three years, and Yuvraj Singh in the winter of 2012. Unless there is a major upheaval in the current India set up, the left-handed trio is unlikely to play in long format anytime soon.
Test skipper Virat Kohli’s endorsement of the bold five-bowler theory means only five specialist batsmen can make it to the playing XI. Against this background, appointing Gambhir, Yuvraj and Raina as captains of the three Duleep Trophy sides belies rationale.
Former India skipper Bishan Singh Bedi was scathing. “These players are struggling to make a comeback to the national team. Forget Tests, they are not even a certainty for limited-overs matches. I don’t really see a point in making them captains in Duleep Trophy,” he said.
Bedi feels the move is symptomatic of the BCCI’s ambivalence towards long-form cricket. “They have diluted Duleep Trophy. I don’t think many of them even know about Duleepsinhji. They are just not concerned about Duleep Trophy or Ranji Trophy. It shows their attitude towards Test cricket. Ravichandran Ashwin is playing in the Tamil Nadu Premier League. I mean, if Test players are available for selection, they should have been asked to play Duleep Trophy and not some local T20 league.”
Over the years, Duleep Trophy has served as an excellent testing ground for fresh talent. Yuvraj himself made the cut for India’s historic tour of Pakistan in 2004 on the back of twin tons for North Zone in the Duleep final against East Zone. Former skipper Sourav Ganguly too earned his place for his debut Test tour following an innings of 171 runs in Duleep. In 2014, KL Rahul stroked centuries in each innings for South Zone in the Duleep final against Centre to seal his spot as the third opener for the tour of Australia. All three batsmen carried their Duleep form into international cricket. Yuvraj struck a half-century and a century in his first two Tests in Pakistan, Ganguly hit centuries in his first two Tests in England and another half-century against Australia in the third, at home. Rahul reached three figures in his very second Test.
BCCI replaced the zonal set-up for Duleep Trophy this year with a Challenger-style three-team format. Bedi, however, felt the change was uncalled for.
“It’s a badly scheduled tournament as the Test team has barely returned from the West Indies. Also, what allegiance will players have towards (India) Red, Blue or Green? When BCCI can have five selectors from five zones, why can’t they have a team from each zone and have a zonal tournament?
“There’s a difference between having to play and wanting to play. If the board doesn’t want to play Duleep Trophy, they might as well not organise it. There’s no point making a mockery of this event.”
Pink ball ‘gimmick’
Bedi also felt the pink ball experiment was a “gimmick” and must be done away with.
“The only way to get the crowd is by playing quality cricket, and not pink ball. If you continue to play West Indies and Zimbabwe, nobody is going to watch you. They should play sparingly and play competitive cricket,” he said. “Do you think Australia and England will ever play Ashes with pink ball? I’m sure even New Zealand will not try it in the near future. Also, in India, with the kind of pollution we have, how do you think will they play with the pink ball in winters?”