Irani Cup – One for Keeps

The Irani Cup is one of the premier first-class cricket competitions in India and can be very well be regarded as one of the big three in the Indian domestic cricket scene along with Ranji and Duleep Trophies. The first ever edition of this tournament was played in 1959 and was contested between the then Bombay team and the Rest of India, which was basically a collection of the best cricketers in India outside the Bombay team. The tournament was previously known as the Irani Trophy. The plans for staging this tournament were made during the 1959-60 season in an effort to mark the 25 years of the completion of the Ranji Trophy, which was back then the main tournament in the Indian cricketing calendar.

The trophy was named after ZR Irani who had always been working with the BCCI in the capacity of a treasurer right from the time it started in 1928 till he breathed his last in 1970. Zal Irani was also one of the biggest promoters of the game in the country. The fixture is normally played between the winners of the previous season’s Ranji Trophy and the best cricketers from the remaining teams in India. In the first couple of years, the tournament was played at the end of the season.

However, the controlling body of Indian cricket soon understood that perhaps it was going wrong with the scheduling and opted to play it as the opening fixture of the cricketing season. From 1965-66 onwards, the tournament has traditionally been held right at the top end of the season. Till date Mumbai or Bombay has featured in the maximum number of Irani Cups by virtue of winning the Ranji Trophy on the most occasions. Among the Indian domestic first class teams it has won the tournament an astounding 15 times. An interesting thing is that since the team’s name changed to Mumbai, it is yet to win an Irani Cup encounter on 6 occasions. Out of its 15 victories one has come as a joint winner – in the 1965-66 season when the tournament was organized for the first time at the start of the cricketing season!

Rest of India has been the dominant team in this format with 25 victories as solo champions. It has had a specially splendid time from the 2006-07 season as is evident from its unbeaten record in the tournament. However, the Irani Cup is more than just about statistics!

For the team that is playing in the game as Ranji Trophy, it is an affirmation of the numero uno status and of the hard work that they put in the previous season. Playing this match also gives them an exceptional opportunity to test themselves against the very best that the remaining teams of India have to offer and that too right at the start of the season! In a way, this match prepares them for the sterner battles ahead.

For the Rest of India team, this is an opportunity to show their true mettle, especially for players who are young and knocking on the doors of the national team. In the last couple of years, this tournament has been used by the selectors to give the players some good preparation ahead of important series, especially tests. The team that gets to win this can truly say it has earned it! Over the years, cricketers have used this tournament to make their case for selection to the Indian team.

The cricket committee for looking after improvements in domestic cricket had, under the leadership of Saurav Ganguly, recently made a suggestion that the Irani Cup be contested over 2 matches. Even though the BCCI is yet to ratify the same, we can only hope that that this tournament continues for as long as possible as it is a win-win situation for all concerned.