Two Ranji Trophy winners, inaugural Under-16 tournament for girls in BCCI’s new domestic schedule

In a move aimed at improving the quality of its first-class competition, the BCCI has decided to split the Ranji Trophy into two categories: Elite and Plate. The tournament is set to run from December 13, 2022, to February 20, 2023, following the conclusion of the white-ball events.

Unlike earlier, where all 38 teams would compete for the same trophy, the 2022-23 domestic season will consist of two Ranji Trophy winners.

This is to minimise the prospect of mismatches at the knockouts, like we saw earlier this year when Jharkhand amassed a lead of 1008 – the highest-ever in first-class history – over Plate toppers Nagaland in the pre-quarterfinals.

As per the new format, 32 Elite teams will be divided into four groups of eight, with the top two from each group qualifying for the quarterfinals. This gives each team at least seven matches in the league phase.

In the Plate competition, six teams will play each other once, with the top four making it through to the knockouts. The bottom two teams will feature in a playoff for the fifth and sixth positions.

Unlike currently, the topper of the Plate group will not cross over to play an Elite team in a pre-quarterfinal, given they will be competing in a tournament of their own.

The two Plate finalists will be promoted to the Elite group for the 2023-24 season, while the bottom two teams of all the four Elite groups combined – factoring in both points and quotient – will be relegated.

The return of Duleep Trophy & Irani Cup
The Duleep Trophy has been reintroduced after a three-season gap and will revert to its original format of being a zonal competition. This time, the addition of a new zone from the North-East – along with North, South, East, West and Central – will make it a six-team knockout competition that will kick off the senior men’s domestic calendar from September 8-25.

That will be followed by the Irani Cup match between 2021-22 Ranji Trophy champions Madhya Pradesh and a Rest of India squad picked by the national selectors on October 1. The Irani Cup was last played in 2018-19 when Vidarbha beat Rest of India on the basis of a first-innings lead.

The white-ball leg
The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, India’s domestic T20 competition, will be held from October 11-November 5, running mostly alongside the T20 World Cup. While it may not help players make a case to be included in the national team, it will remain a platform for them to impress IPL talent scouts. This T20 competition will be followed by the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy.

Unlike in the Ranji Trophy where teams will vie for two separate trophies, the white-ball tournaments will not feature a separate Plate division, with the newer domestic teams sprinkled across five different groups based on pre-tournament seedings.

What is in it for women’s cricket?
Quite a lot, which is a great sign given the interest around the sport has heightened following their silver-medal finish at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. For the first time since BCCI took over the running of women’s cricket in 2006, they will be staging an Under-16 tournament for girls. This is a significant step towards identifying a talent pool they can groom for the Women’s Under-19 World Cup. The inaugural edition of this tournament, which has had to be pushed back twice due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will be played in the T20 format in “January 2023 in South Africa.

Equally significant is the reintroduction of the women’s zonal competition – in both T20 and 50-over format – for the seniors after five years. Then, there is also a T20 and 50-over competition for the Under-23s to ensure players who miss the bus at the Under-19s have another level to aim for.

When does the women’s season begin?
With the Women’s T20 World Cup set to be staged in South Africa in February next year, the season begins with the Senior Women’s T20 Trophy from October 11-November 5. This will be followed by the Inter-zonal T20s and a Challenger Trophy, all aimed at increasing match-time for the players, which will then give selectors an opportunity to widen their choices before picking their World Cup squad.

The women’s calendar, which generally stretches well into April, will now finish in February with the BCCI set to use their March-April window for the inaugural Women’s IPL, the plans for which are underway according to Sourav Ganguly. The BCCI is contemplating a five or six-team tournament, to begin with, and the matter will be discussed at the BCCI AGM in September.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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