Chhatisgarh overjoyed with Full Membership after long wait
The BCCI's decision to grant full membership to Chhattisgarh, paving the way for their maiden appearance in the Ranji Trophy and other domestic tournaments, has delighted the state's cricket administration. The Chhattisgarh State Cricket Sangh (CSCS) has assured it would invest its energies in channeling the potential of the state's cricketers. "We are thankful to the BCCI who identified and recognised us," CSCS president Baldev Singh Bhatia told ESPNcricinfo. "The government has helped us a lot. The stadium belongs to them, and they have provided it to us and the facilities are great."
Chhattisgarh have had their fair share of waiting to get here; after completing five continuous seasons as an Associate Member in accordance with BCCI norms, they pushed for full membership in 2014, but were thwarted by the tense election scenario in the BCCI. There was no positive response during the following year as well. "It's a procedural thing," Bhatia said. "There was continuous due diligence from the BCCI to monitor if we were adhering to all the norms - from administration to infrastructure to finance."
Apart from the five-year stipulation, the BCCI also judges Associate members on various other parameters, especially cricket at the grassroots. "They should have participated in BCCI tournaments for a minimum of three years," BCCI's general manager (game development) Ratnakar Shetty said. "We examine the facilities available at the venue and all the other grounds. Then the standard of district cricket and local cricket is evaluated as well."
What also worked in favour of the CSCS was that the Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh Stadium in Naya Raipur had successfully hosted quite a few high-profile matches. It played host to Delhi Daredevils for two matches each during IPL 2013 and 2015, and was also allotted eight games in the now-defunct Champions League T20 tournament in 2014.
Both Shetty and Daredevils CEO Hemant Dua said that the venue was of international standards. That the GMR group, which owns the Daredevils franchise, has business interests there has had a positive effect on both the team as well as cricket in Chhattisgarh.
"We were looking at expanding the business and reach of DD, as obviously GMR has a presence there," Dua said. "It's one of the better stadiums around and the facilities are great. The government is very welcoming and the state association also went out of the way to welcome us."
By virtue of being a Full Member, the CSCS - whose annual grant from the BCCI till now was around Rs 75 lakh - now stands to earn in excess of Rs 20 crore. Bhatia said the elevation was a reward for consistently meeting the standards expected by the BCCI. "Inspections have happened two or three times in the past," he said. "Even last month the entire committee was there. The BCCI was very confident of us which is why they allotted us IPL matches - usually Associate members are never given such high-profile matches."
Bhatia also pointed to the abundant natural potential in players from the interior regions of Chhattisgarh, and that the junior teams' fine performances were big factors in the state securing full membership. "We were given the opportunity to host Associate matches, and the BCCI ascertained how we did there and what our standards were. They saw our team's fine performance over years; our under-14, 16 and 19 boys have won the finals many times. They have beaten strong teams like Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. One of our boys, Amandeep Khare, was even part of India's squad in the Under-19 World Cup"
According to Bhatia, the association's priority now is to develop a strong team for the Ranji Trophy and also to create a robust pipeline of talent. "We will work on it and bring new coaches. We will develop the infrastructure in interior places and search talent there and we will ensure that the boys progress," he said.
"We can now go to the interiors and play these boys all year. We can create special zones, and develop infrastructure and send coaches there. About four years ago, a Chhattisgarh Adivasi boy, who has never been to the city or had access to transport, captained a junior team to victories."
Bhatia said that several players like Jalaj Saxena, Jatin Saxena and Harpreet Bhatia, who are originally from Chhattisgarh, turn out for Madhya Pradesh. He said the CSCS would approach some of them to play for Chhattisgarh. "Har koi apne state ke liye khelna chahta hai [everyone wants to play for his state]. Our boys had to play elsewhere because they had no option," he said. "We will definitely approach them. It's their right [to play for this team]."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo