The top Indian cricketers will feature in the Duleep Trophy, which shall be played with a pink ball under lights later this year. It will help decide the viability of hosting a pink ball Test in October against New Zealand in Indian conditions and provide Indian players valuable practice with the pink ball.

The plan to revamp Duleep Trophy suggests that speculations about a mini-IPL in the same time frame can be put to an end.

Anurag Thakur, the president of Indian cricket board, not only confirmed the availability of top players but also stressed the reason for their participation. “All players will be playing Duleep Trophy; that is why we have gone for day-night domestic cricket for first time. We want to know how the player feels, how the dew conditions will be. With top players playing we will get a good feedback,” Thakur told The Indian Express.

It also marks the revival of a tournament that had long lost its lustre and was seemingly on its last legs, especially after it was suspended last season due to a crowded calendar. Back then, the BCCI had promised that Duleep Trophy would be revived and the possibility of a pink-ball Test, an idea that took off after the success of a Test match between Australia and New Zealand last October, has made it a reality.

The staggering television numbers and attendance at the stadium of that game has interested the administrators in the pink experiment. In the Indian context, Duleep Trophy has become the vehicle of change.

The revival has come with transformational change. The old inter-zonal nature of Duleep Trophy will be scrapped and instead it will be played on a round-robin basis between four teams picked by the national selectors, with each team assured of getting at least three games.

It will be bolstered by the presence of all the top stars in the country. It will act as a dress rehearsal for the game against New Zealand. “We will come to know what advantages and disadvantages are of playing with pink ball. Before jumping straight away in Tests cricket these top Indian players will be playing it in Duleep Trophy. We will make sure that top cricketers participate in Duleep Trophy.”

The decision to introduce the pink-ball in Duleep Trophy has already been welcomed by Test players like Cheteshwar Pujara who felt the move would help players practice against pink ball, and develop bench strength in the country. “Sixty players will be in the fray (assuming 15-men squad) and whoever performs might get a chance,” Pujara had said.

There were whispers about squeezing in a mini edition of IPL after the solitary Test match against Bangladesh in August and the start of the home series against New Zealand in October. India then go on to host a long series against England in November-December before they play Tests against Australia – at home – in February next year. However, the repackaging of Duleep Trophy puts an end to those rumours.

Last week, in the working committee of the Indian cricket board, Thakur had talked about the plan to focus on Test matches. As a preparation for the T20World Cup that ran from March 8 to April 4, the BCCI had the Indian team playing in a series of T20 games. Now that it’s over, and as India gets ready to play 13 Tests at home, after the four-Test tour in West Indies which concludes on August 22, the board doesn’t want a T20 championship to spoil India’s preparations for the longer format.

Thakur focussed on the stature of the players who would play Duleep Trophy, whose timelines effectively cuts out the possibility of holding mini IPL.

“We will make sure that contracted players will be participating whosoever, qualifies to play. Aisa nahi hai ke Pawan Negi khelega as he is contracted player. (It’s not as if Pawan Negi will play). Jis player ka banta hoga those players will have to play Duleep Trophy. These Duleep Trophy games will help players a lot especially with long season ahead,” Thakur said.

Viable in Indian conditions

The Duleep Trophy will help the board, and the players, to see whether pink-ball cricket can be viable in Indian conditions. The Australian experiment had necessitated that the ground and pitch was doctored to an extent.

With the approval of the captains, the pitch, and the outfield, was kept grassier than normal to minimize the de-colouration of the pinkness, and make it more visible to the players. Though the colour was attractive to watch on TV, the players who took part in the game had complained about visibility and the liberal amount of grass which played its part in reducing the game to a three-day affair.

Encouraged by the popularity among fans, the administrators tried to make the ball more player-amenable by trying a black-seam on the pink ball in Australian domestic cricket earlier this year. It too ran into problems of frequent ball changes.

Countries like Pakistan too have tried it in their domestic cricket, not without problems though. It would be interesting to see how Duleep Trophy plays out.

This isn’t the first time that Duleep Trophy’s inter-zonal five-team format has been tinkered with. In 2002-03, Duleep Trophy was played between five teams – Elite A, Elite B, Elite C, and Plate A, Plate B. Neither is it the first instance of a domestic tournament played in lights with a coloured ball. The Ranji Trophy final between Delhi and Mumbai in ‘96-97 in Gwalior was a day-night affair with a white ball. However, Indian cricket will turn pink for the first time later this year.

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