"Duleep Trophy might have lost a bit of its sheen and importance in the recent past, but it is still very dear to me" © Cricinfo Ltd

Dear readers

When I started playing first-class cricket about a decade ago, the whole purpose of playing Ranji Trophy was to do enough to get picked for North Zone in Duleep Trophy. The Ranji format was different back then. Teams were divided into zones, and would play each other before the top two qualified for the knock-outs. Hence the media coverage was also restricted to the matches in the particular zone. For example we would rarely get to know about the matches happening in the south or east. I'm sure it must have been the same for other zones too.

Doing well was important and one got noticed all right, but only in his respective zone - unless someone did something out of the ordinary, something like a triple-century or 15 wickets in a match. The knock-out matches were always pretty important, but there were only a handful of teams involved.

The real chance to get noticed at the national level would come when one represented the zonal side in Duleep Trophy. This was an opportunity for players from different states to see each other play. This tournament also included the India players since a not-so-crowded international calendar during this period allowed them to play. The players in the Indian team would often share details of up-and-coming cricketers with each other, but that was also limited to a player's knowledge of the zone he played in. The Duleep Trophy was the only platform where one would compete against the best in the country, and hence performances would get noticed too.

Those days, an ordinary outing in Duleep Trophy would severely hamper one's chances to represent the country. One would have to wait for the next edition of the tournament, which obviously happened after a year, to repair the damage.

But now that the Ranji format has changed it has become a national tournament in the true sense of the word. With the teams divided into two divisions and in two separate pools thereafter, teams get to play against different teams every year irrespective of the zones. The media coverage of Ranji Trophy has also changed with the format, and now we can follow almost every team's fortunes. One need not wait till the Duleep Trophy to know which guy is doing well in the season. While the Ranji Trophy has become more important, the importance of the Duleep Trophy has become somewhat diluted. Performing extremely well in the Duleep Trophy is no longer the only way to impress the selectors. And the fact that a lot of players play for India before playing for their respective zones these days just reiterates my point. This probably isn't such a bad thing for a player because now he has more avenues and hence more chances to leave a mark. A couple of bad innings in the Duleep Trophy are not going to push his career back by a year. On the contrary I see it as an opportunity to continue the good work, and add up to the tally of runs or wickets for the season.

The Duleep Trophy might have lost a bit of its sheen and importance in the recent past, but it is still very dear to me.


Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here