India news June 18, 2015

Five major challenges for Mumbai cricket

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The elections may have been over, but the problems plaguing Mumbai cricket remain the same. ESPNcricinfo lists five issues, in no particular order, that should be on the priority list of the refurbished managing committee, led by Sharad Pawar after he swept the MCA polls on Wednesday.

Involving former cricketers in MCA

During the last MCA annual general meeting, former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar had supported a proposal to amend the rulebook and allow voting rights to only those who have attended at least four general body meetings. As much as it is a proposal to keep the flock of politicians entering the MCA at bay, the move may help former cricketers gain some sort of importance in administering the game.

More importantly, the need of the hour for the MCA is to integrate at all levels. Till very recently, Mumbai has had a long tradition of former cricketers watching games from sidelines on the maidans and giving valuable advice to youngsters. Somehow, the trend has been missing over the last few years.

"The need is to involve passionate former cricketers who have got nothing to do with club cricket. They shouldn't be associated with any office or club lobbies so they come in with neutral views," says former Mumbai captain Amol Muzumdar.

Feeder lines alternate to age-group systems

While inter-school cricket has traditionally been the first line of supply to Mumbai's rich legacy of producing international cricketers, inter-college tournaments have served as the platform to hone skills for talented cricketers. Of late, though, both have suffered due to various problems.

"With cricket having spread to remote suburbs like Palghar, Dahanu and Badlapur, Ambarnath (all of which are more than 100kms from south Mumbai), the traditional Harris and Giles shield tournaments are not providing necessary platforms to spot talent. After all, both these inter-school tournaments are restricted to schools that are in the jurisdiction of the municipal corporation," says Vengsarkar, who was elected as a vice-president for the fifth time.

As for the schools that participate in the Harris and Giles Shield, the most rampant problem has been of overage players. Age-fudging results in getting laurels to a select few schools year after year, and overage players end up overshadowing promising cricketers, many of whom give up the game even before blooming as cricketers.

"If overage thing is ruining school cricket, put in place a system that would bar it. Or have an alternative, like playing the Harris and Giles matches on the same day so that it would put considerable brakes on the age-fudging problems," says Muzumdar.

Making optimum use of infrastructure

The MCA's academy at the Bandra-Kurla Complex is one of the plushest facilities, indoor and outdoor. Same is the case with the new club house in Kandivali. But over the last couple of years, the academy at BKC has resulted into a dormant facility, with want of quality coaches.

"It's a dummy academy. Yes, it's a world-class academy in terms of infrastructure but if it's not run efficiently, there's no use of it," Muzumdar observes. "For that, a good thought process needs to go in it. Otherwise it will just be one more academy. Let's hope quality coaches are roped in to achieve the primary objective of setting up the academy, which is to produce cricketers."

Making the tournament structure more competitive

During their topsy-turvy 2014-15 Ranji Trophy season, Mumbai used a whopping 25 players, nine of whom made their first-class debuts. More than half of those debutants were exposed as they never appeared to be ready for the format. It was in stark contrast to Mumbai's history to have a second rung of players ready to push those in the first XI.

It is primarily due to the lack of a tournament structure that focusses only on quantity rather than quality. Two years ago, the ruling MCA regime drastically changed the club tournament structure, which resulted in the Kanga League, that used to test the batsmen's technique, but it has lost its charm for being the only monsoon tournament in India.

Though the revised structure has given more opportunities to cricketers to pile on the numbers, it has created confusion about what exactly is the selection tournament for the senior team. "Please restore Kanga League. Club cricket is the lifeline of Mumbai cricket," Muzumdar pleads.

Similarly, Vengsarkar had proposed a T20 franchise league, towards the end of his eight-year stint as vice-president, to give more opportunities to fringe players. The proposal had resulted into a Corporate Twenty20 tournament, which has also been stalled for the last few years.

"If the corporate tournament is revived, it will not only help us create a bigger bench strength but may also help cricketers getting employment even in private sector. That coupled with a restructured college tournament can give us two additional options for fringe players to make a case for senior team selection," Vengsarkar says.

Women's cricket and communication wing

Women's cricket has largely been ignored by all the BCCI member units and MCA is no exception. But with a steady stream of Mumbai cricketers into the national team, it's high time the MCA comes up with infrastructure and tournament structure for women. President Sharad Pawar's announcement of creating a provision for female representation on the managing committee is a welcome move, to begin with.

And equally important for the MCA is to improve its communication world. In the era of cyber age, MCA's website wears an ancient look. Statistics and records are outdated and it's not at all a user-friendly portal.

Combining both the factors, Muzumdar sums up aptly: "It's time for Mumbai cricket to be trendsetters like yesteryears. Be it in any walk of the game, Mumbai has set the trend and the rest of the Indian cricket fraternity has followed them. If we can do it early, it would put Mumbai cricket back to where it has belonged."

Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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