Mumbai, July 20: Due to the packed schedule of domestic and international cricket, the more than half a century-old Duleep Trophy inter-zonal competition has been given a break for the first time since its inception by the Cricket Board for the upcoming season.
The BCCI's 2015-16 domestic calendar, released today by the Board which boasted in the media release that it will host 900 matches in the span of six months starting October 1, has discarded for the first time the inter-zonal competition after it was started in 1961-62.
The tournament had been conducted to perpetuate the memory of K S Duleepsinhji, nephew of K S Ranjitsinhji in whose memory the national cricket championship is being played.
It's not clear whether the tournament, which since its inception had served as a virtual selection trial to pick the Indian teams for home and away Test rubbers in days gone by, will be resurrected in the next 2016-17 season. (Twin tons for KL Rahul in Duleep final)
The BCCI release is totally silent about the axing of such a prestigious tournament in the upcoming season. Even the BCCI, in its Statistical Annual that has now been discontinued, mentions the importance of Duleep Trophy by stating that it "serves as a useful guide to the form of cricketers when a Test side for a domestic series has to be selected or a team for an overseas tour is to be chosen."
A prime example of someone who benefited by doing well in the tournament is Ajit Wadekar, under whose captaincy India made history by winning their first-ever Test series in 1971 in the West Indies and England successively.
The stylish left hander was picked as one of the probables for the first time against the visiting Gary Sobers-led West Indies side after his classy century (103) for West Zone in the 1966-67 final against South Zone - led by M L Jaisimha with then India skipper Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi playing under him - at the Brabourne Stadium here.
Wadekar had invariably failed when the selectors were watching - despite scoring runs by the ton when they were not - prior to this superb hundred against a bowling attack comprising Abid Ali, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan.
Even after his classy ton Wadekar was not picked in the probables list and it needed persistent grilling by sports scribes of that generation to convince the then selection panel chief Datta Ray to include him as the 37th and additional probable.
Wadekar made his debut along with another future captain, Clive Lloyd of the West Indies, in the same Brabourne Stadium Test match and scored a superb half century and then had a continuous run before he had to quit the game in the aftermath of public fury over the 3-0 whitewash in England in 1974.
In those days, when international cricket around the world was at a premium, venues like the Brabourne Stadium used to attract crowds in excess of 25,000 for Duleep Trophy games. The concept of inter zonal competition itself had been tried out in 1945-46, and discarded after three years, by the BCCI to replace the communal Pentangulars.
The idea was revived when the Board decided to institute a trophy in memory of Duleepsinhji, who like his legendary uncle Ranji, had played all his cricket in England and even represented England in Tests - when he died in 1959 in Mumbai.
Meanwhile in the BCCI domestic calendar, unlike in previous seasons, there is also a huge two-month gap between the conclusion of the Ranji Trophy league phase (December 4) and the commencement of the knock out stage (February 3).
This has been apparently done to accommodate various limited overs competition run by the BCCI such as the One-day Inter-State league, Deodhar Trophy - both played over 50 overs - and the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 championships.
The Ranji Trophy concludes on February 28 followed by the Irani Cup between the national champions and the Rest of India from March 6-10 which also marks the end of the domestic season.