For many, the Ranji Trophy is the pinnacle of Indian domestic cricket but for some connoisseurs of the Indian game, the Duleep Trophy takes the cake. The reasons are simple – it is a strength-versus-strength format, where the best cricketers in the country play each other – here quality and not quantity is the main issue. This is also one tournament where the members of the national team take part regularly and that only adds to the overall worth, as opposed to the Ranji Trophy where current members of the national team are hardly able to participate owing to their national team commitments.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India started the tournament in 1961-62 season in the honor of Kumar Shri Duleepsinhji, an Indian born cricketer who represented England and the nephew of Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, after whom the Ranji Trophy has been named.
The tournament started in a knockout format and continued in this vein till the 1993-94 season when it became a league. In the 2002-03 season the zonal teams were replaced by Elite A, Plate A, Elite B, Plate B, and Elite C, which were created from teams that played in the Elite and Plate divisions of the Ranji Trophy that year. The format was not repeated in the next season as it was argued that the teams did not have that sense of identity that is so intrinsic to this tournament that was created on zonal lines.
The tournament is contested by 5 teams – North Zone, South Zone, Central Zone, East Zone and West Zone. The North Zone team comprises players from Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and the Services. The South Zone team is made up of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa, Kerala, Hyderabad and Tamil Nadu players. The Central Zone team is represented by players from Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Railways, Vidarbha and Rajasthan. The players that make up the East Zone team are from Assam, Odisha, Bengal, Tripura and Jharkhand. The West Zone is drawn from Baroda, Mumbai, Gujarat, Saurashtra and Maharashtra.
The first edition of this tournament was won by the West Zone that hammered the South Zone by 10 wickets. Till date, North Zone has been the best team with 16 solo wins and 1 shared championship from 25 finals appearances followed by West Zone that has landed the trophy 14 times on its own and shared it thrice in 32 attempts.
South Zone is the next best team with 12 wins in 21 appearances, followed by Central Zone with 5 wins from 14 occasions. The present title holders, East Zone, have played in 7 finals and won 2 of them in the last two seasons – 2011-12 and 2012-13 and, at both times, they defeated the Central Zone!
The 1962-63 season was a memorable one for this tournament as 4 teams with the exception of the Central Zone had a test cricketer from the West Indies to bolster their bowling attacks. It was a major deal considering West Indies had fast bowlers like Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith and Roy Gilchrist in their ranks at that time.
The Duleep Trophy saw another bout of innovation from the 2003-04 season to 2008 where a sixth guest team was added to the mix along with the five competitors. England A was the first team to have played as a visiting one. It was followed by Bangladesh in 2004-05, the Zimbabwe Cricket Union President’s XI in 2005-06, and Sri Lanka A in 2006-07. Fittingly enough, the England Lions were the last team to take part as a guest in the 2007-08 season and with that ended the attempt to get some international flavor in this tournament!