May 9, 2009

Once upon a time in rural Twenty20

Jamie Alter

The rural community remodeled as the fictional village Champaner in the 2001 Academy Award-nominated Hindi film Lagaan is set to actually host a cricket tournament. No, this won’t be a real-life battle against high taxes between peasants in a barren village and their oppressive British rulers. Instead, in keeping with times, it’s going to be called the Kutch Premier League, planned along the lines of the IPL, and will feature eight local teams vying for the tag of Twenty20 champs in an arid corner of Gujarat.

Rajnal, 50 kilometers from Champaner's inspiration Kunaria, will play host to teams with names like Wagad Royal Challengers and Kutch Gladiators, owned by former Indian Test offspinner Rajesh Chauhan. The other teams are owned by local businessmen, who paid Rs 50,000 (US$ 1,017) for each. Running the show is the Ratnal Sport Club, which auctioned the teams. There are even 24 icon players out of a pool of 150 auctioned on May 1. Raking in the top amount was allrounder Nirav Pandya, for whom Bhuj Black Hills paid Rs 20,000 (US$ 407).

Each game will be a day fixture and telecast on local cable television, though hopefully without DLF maximums and Citi moments of success. Local steel company Nilkanth Steel owns the title sponsorship. Add a dash of glamour in the form of popular Gujarati actress Hemali Shejpal, and this is one proper shindig.

The winner will pocket Rs 1.5 lakh (US$ 3,050) in cash and a trip to Canbis County Cricket Club in Kenya, which has a large Gujarati population.Doing a rustic take on Lalit Modi, event planner Trikam Ahir said the tournament’s intention was to provide a platform for local players as well as “good entertainment for locals” during the summer vacation. The times they are a-changin’.

Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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