From the Ranji games and straight into the Duleep Trophy championship, one cannot help but marvel at the latter's standard and the quality of cricket being put on display. Just a look at the net session of a Zone team is enough to gauge the palpable difference. After all, the team, which represents a particular zone is made up of the best in-form players of all the states falling in its purview.
Not too long ago, Duleep Trophy was the fulcrum around which domestic cricket revolved. While performing for the state, one always had an eye on a possible berth in the Duleep Trophy team. You would keep a tab on how your competitors were faring and what exactly was needed to go and get a look in.
Earlier, the Duleep Trophy was held on a league basis, which initially meant a game each against the remaining four zones. This was then altered a bit by involving a foreign team to raise the level of competition. Even then, it meant at least two league games with the top team making it to the final.
The format has now changed completely with the exclusion of foreign teams and the tournament being held on a knockout basis. The finalists from the last season, along with a team picked randomly, get a bye and play directly in the semifinals, while the remaining two teams play the quarterfinals.
While the reward for the defending champions is good enough, it makes for a catch-22 situation for the players involved. A match played less means their batting and bowling statistics getting a hit. One wants to have as many innings under the belt to pile on the runs or increase the tally of wickets. But in this case, if your team did well the previous season, you get fewer chances to play.
These knockout matches, except the final, are four-dayers, which, in most cases, mean the match getting decided on the basis of the first innings lead, unless the track is under-prepared, which is very unlikely at this level. A four-day knockout match doesn't exactly challenge the good teams enough and also mean that you might end up with getting only one opportunity to showcase your skills, which may be insufficient.
Just to make matters even tougher for the players, there are only three days between the last day of the Ranji final and the first Duleep Trophy game. The players who feature in the finals are, quite understandably, a tired lot and seldom find the enthusiasm to raise the bar so soon. Also, since the team has only one or two practice sessions together before the match, the chances of these talented individuals working as a team are not too high. Obviously then, emphasis is on personal performances with little regard to the demands of the team.
Duleep Trophy is a great concept but to ensure that its importance isn't wasted on the players, the tournament needs an overhaul. More matches need to be played in order to give everyone a fair chance.