The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy will run from October 27-November 22, while the Vijay Hazare Trophy will be held from December 1-29
The BCCI has pushed back the resumption of the Ranji Trophy from its original start date of November 16 to ensure the 38 participating teams have more time to prepare for red-ball cricket.
The move follows a request from several associations seeking more time to prepare for the premier first-class competition, which was shelved in 2020-21 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Ranji Trophy will now begin on January 5, with an end date of March 20, 2022.
In a revised domestic calendar sent out to the state associations, the BCCI has accommodated the Vijay Hazare Trophy for much of the period the Ranji Trophy was originally set to run. This means both the senior men’s white-ball tournaments will be held before the Ranji Trophy.
The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy that kicks off the senior men’s competitions will run from October 27-November 22, with the Vijay Hazare Trophy being staged from December 1-29.
The women’s one-day competition, the season’s original curtain-raiser, will now begin on October 20, instead of September 21. This will be followed by a four-team Challenger trophy aimed at providing further match practice to India’s top players as well as the fringe players with an eye on the 2022 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand.
The domestic season will culminate with the CK Nayudu Trophy, which is now an Under-25 tournament instead of Under-23. The move will especially benefit those players who lost out 18 months of age-group cricket because of the pandemic. This tournament will be played from January 6 to April 2. In recent times, the tournament has been seen as a feeder route for the Ranji Trophy.
Ranji Trophy format tweaked; players unhappy
As per the revised schedule, the 38 Ranji Trophy teams will now be slotted into six groups: five Elite (six teams each) and Plate (eight teams). Each of the Elite group toppers will secure a direct entry into the quarter-finals. The second-placed teams from each of the five Elite Groups and the topper of the Plate group will play tree pre-quarters to decide the top eight.
While the format adds competitive edge while also making it sleeker, it also has a flip side to it. As per the earlier schedule, teams were divided into three Elite Groups and Plate, with the Elite teams having a minimum of eight first-class games, nine in case of Plate.
The reduction to five league games in the current format also potentially leads to reduced earnings, unless the BCCI’s apex committee formed to look into the issue of player compensation announces a significant increase. So far, the players are yet to hear from the board about delayed compensation for cricket missed in 2020-21 due to the pandemic.
Under-19 players to get an extra year
In line with not wanting to deny Under-19 players a crack at junior cricket’s biggest prize – the Under-19 World Cup – the BCCI has ensured Under-19 players will be handed an extra year to make their case for the World Cup slated to be held in the Caribbean early next year.
As per BCCI’s existing rules, a player can compete in Under-19 cricket for a maximum of four seasons. This rule has been tweaked to accommodate a fifth season to ensure somewhat of a level-playing field for players who lost out more than a year due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, inclusion of the Vijay Merchant Trophy for the Under-16 boys quashes any uncertainty around the tournament owing to the absence of a vaccination programme for those aged 18 or lower. While no dates have been announced yet, the tournament is expected to take place in November-December 2021.
Cap on players, support staff
In an email to the state associations, the BCCI has stipulated each team can have a maximum of 30 members, comprising at least 20 players. The number of support staff has been capped at 10. Teams have also been asked to appoint a physician, over and above the support staff cap, for Covid-19-related issues and emergencies.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo