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IPL 2014 vs Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy — What is the rationale behind timing of Zonal T20 tournament

Even the likes of Virender Sehwag (left) and Gautam Gambhir
With players like Virender Sehwag (left) and Gautam Gambhir participating in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the tournament has drawn plenty of star power © Getty Images

Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy has witnessed plenty of star power. With the countdown ticking Indian Premier League 2014, R Vishal scrutinizes the rationale behind the timing of the Zonal Twenty20 event.

When a T20 International (T20I) series called Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, named after India’s first overseas centurion was inaugurated in 2009, it puzzled many a soul in the Indian domestic circuit, who have their hands full with state team commitments through the year.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) had taken shape just a year ago amidst fanfare and glamour that was seldom witnessed before. A marriage of the country’s two big obsessions — Bollywood and Cricket walked and hand in hand and into the sunset. The tournament was a raging success then and despite all infamous controversies that have surrounded the cash-rich event since, has always been on an upward surge.

 

The sheer demand of the IPL; showcasing the best Indian talents sharing match notes and high-fiving the best global players was always going to be a rousing success, question marks over the Mushtaq Ali Trophy future though, lingered quite strongly.

While some expected teams to field their junior players in the idea of blooding new talent in quite a nondescript tournament like Mushtaq Ali, the respective state teams have fielded full-strength teams with players on either sides playing with utmost combative spirit and gusto.

The scheduling of the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy couldn’t have come at a worse time. The IPL is just days ahead with foreign players already touching down in India and going through conditioning camps before leaving to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) meanwhile sanctioned a pre-tournament notification to make the participation of all the state players mandatory.

Whether the state players would be pushing themselves when quality IPL performances could catapult them right into the doors of Indian selection is debatable. A double-edged sword indeed; the players can either use the Mushtaq Ali Trophy to get into the groove and gain match fitness or choose to go through it like a punishment drill with a clenched jaw all the way through.

So far, the Mushtaq Ali Trophy has produced some nail-biters. Even some of the out-of-favour players like Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Irfan Pathan have showed intent and have been influential to their respective teams with their presence.

It could be argued that this time could be better spent by building camaraderie between players, more so because of the shuffle amongst most franchises in IPL 2014. Some of the star foreign players have also admitted in the past to have found getting to know the state players as a bridge too far with such little time on their hands.

It goes without saying that it is for the marquee names that the fans flock to the stadiums. The promise when the mega-event started was that local talent would be promoted aggressively and IPL provided a perfect platform. Six years down the line, yes, India has been able to unearth a few gems there and then but the timing and execution of this year’s Mushtaq Ali trophy is inexplicable.

The agenda behind have the Mushtaq Ali Trophy on the eve of the IPL still has some of us scratching our head for answers. Ditto with the top zonal players arm-twisted into playing the tournament. The team-management of certain IPL teams have also expressed, albeit mildly at their displeasure at the scheduling of the Mushtaq Ali Trophy.

T20 cricket, as much as it is frowned upon by certain sections of the cricketing elite, has gripped the nation ever since India’s surprise win in ICC World T20 2007. With the Mushtaq Ali trophy looked as an opportunity by even someone of Sehwag’s pedigree, the board stands vindicated for staging the tournament.

With BCCI in search of a much needed new look to their tainted image under a new regime, transparency would go a long way as a step in the right direction. The overlap of two-drawn tournaments leaves a lot to be desired from the board, especially with most players touring UAE for the first time.

(R Vishal is a journalist and alumni of the Asian College of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)

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