BCCI revamps Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy structure

The Gujarat team celebrate their 2014-15 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy title. According to the new structure, only zonal teams will participate in the main draw Rajnikant Baral

The BCCI has decided to do scrap its domestic Twenty20 tournament, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, from the 2016-17 season and replace it with a new inter-zonal league. The new tournament will occupy the same slot in the domestic calendar as the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, which was played in January this year.

"We have proposed that the T20 matches will be played on a zonal-league basis," BCCI president Anurag Thakur said at the end of the board's working committee meeting in Dharamsala on Friday. "The states can play these matches at any time of the year among themselves. Then a league will be started where the stakeholders would be the state units in the zone."

The new tournament will be divided into two stages - an inter-state one, followed by the main inter-zonal one. In the first stage, states within a zone will play T20 matches among themselves. Once that level is complete, every zone will have a board comprising one representative from each of the respective state associations. Members of the zonal board will appoint a CEO and selectors to pick a team for the main stage. For example, once state teams within the West Zone have finished their respective matches, their representatives can appoint a selection committee that will pick a team to compete with the other four zones. There could be an additional sixth team representing the affiliate states under the BCCI banner, but that has not yet been confirmed.

The schedule for the main inter-zonal stage of the tournament is likely to be drawn up by the BCCI, but Thakur said the inter-state matches can be held anytime prior to the tournament. Incidentally, the new structure was not discussed at the captains and coaches meeting on Thursday.

The format for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy comprised teams spread across four groups with the top two from each qualifying for the knockouts. When asked why the board decided to revamp the format, Thakur said the new tournament would provide an opportunity to youngsters and domestic players who were unable to participate in the IPL. He also said that the franchise-based leagues run by states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu would remain unaffected by this new tournament.

"They can participate in that competitive tournament now," Thakur said. "Rather than Syed Mushtaq Ali, the way it has been played, this new format will give more number of matches to the players and more glory and more money to the upcoming cricketers."

A BCCI official said that the idea to start the new zonal-league tournament came from Thakur, who presented a proposal to monetize the new tournament before the working committee.

"He wants to find a sponsor for the tournament and market that," the official said. "But that is not easy considering fans are interested in watching international stars and not domestic players,"

The official also revealed that Thakur wants to resuscitate university cricket in a similar fashion by selling rights for the T20 University Cricket Championship. In 2013 the BCCI, along with the Indian government, had conducted the University Cricket Championship, an extension of the annual all-India inter-zone university Rohinton Baria Tournament, by selling the rights to NDTV and co-sponsor Toyota. However that venture was scrapped after one year.

"The previous deal ended because there was no attraction for the sponsor. They were expecting that the BCCI would allow an international player in each team to create hype but that was not possible," the official said.