January 27, 2011

Dig deeper into India for talent

The BCCI needs to do more to ensure young talent from the country's towns and districts isn't unnoticed

Though cricket is a religion in India, there aren't good enough places of worship - lack of quality facilities for young cricketers is a problem. So, are programmes professionally implemented? Can cricket be developed without proper infrastructure and a foolproof selection process?

The Cricket Development Committee (CDC) of the BCCI - Dilip Vengsarkar, Chairman (West), Chetan Chauhan (North), Arshad Ayub (South), Prashant Vaidya (Central) and Pranab Roy (East) - met a month back in Mumbai and deliberated on various issues.

Their work will revolve around facilities provided by each association in terms of tournaments, and grassroots programmes that associations conduct for schools and colleges. They will also prepare a blueprint for Under-19 and India A teams. The committee will travel to all the zones to interact with the officials of the associations. So far so good, and the CDC is going in the right direction. But India is also full of hidden talent that needs to be unearthed and shaped.

An interesting idea that was sowed in the CDC was to have mass selections as many talented junior level players don't get picked due to lack of opportunity or politics.

Abey Kuruvilla and many of the teenagers of the BCA-Mafatlal bowling scheme of the 90s never had the opportunity to play cricket. But quite a few of them, after being picked via open selections, went on to play for state and the country.

Kuruvilla's story is interesting. Being an engineering student from the far off suburbs of Mumbai at Dr. D. Y. Patil college (which has now built a fantastic stadium), he didn't get time to play hard-ball cricket and played only tennis-ball cricket on Sundays to pursue his hobby.

One day this lanky lad landed at the Wankhede stadium for an open selection trial for Mumbai University. Since he had tickets for a movie that was showing near the stadium, he was told by his college to attend the selection trial. He had no aspirations of getting selected.

He bowled a few quick wayward deliveries and former India fast bowler Ramakant Desai, who was the selector, promptly rejected him. That was on December 27, 1990. On March 13, 1991 he was making his debut in the Ranji Trophy final and that too, without playing a single club game!

When he was inducted in the bowling scheme, word spread about his speed and the disconcerting bounce he could extract from a docile pitch. That was enough for the state selectors to pick him and, funnily, the one who rejected him at the university trial, was the one who picked him for the Ranji final!

Until the 80s, cricketers came from the metros as Indian cricket was in a funnel mode. But thanks to the IPL, the game has spread far and wide in this country of over 650 districts. With the unprecedented hype and reach, the model is now a pyramid as the base has become wider.

Though the BCCI conducts more than 700 matches in six months for senior and junior levels, the number of quality grounds is few. No matter how many state-of-the-art stadiums are built, it's not where cricketers are conceived. It's the players from schools and colleges, playing in maidaans, who perform in awful conditions, and make a mark.

Take, for example, Zaheer Khan who comes from Shrirampur near Nasik in the state of Maharashtra. Shrirampur's huge maidaan accommodated all sports and Zaheer excelled in most, but when he decided to get into cricket, he chose to move to Mumbai. Since he didn't have financial backing, he moved from one place to another. And when, despite performing, he didn't get selected for Mumbai as the team had a very effective pace attack, he moved to Baroda as a professional.

Another success story is that of legspinner Narendra Hirwani from Gorakhpur district on the border of Uttar Pradesh and Nepal. He was rejected by the state selectors for the junior team. Fed up with politics he went over to Indore, the headquarters of Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association, and pleaded with the coach and present joint secretary of the BCCI Sanjay Jagdale, to enroll him in the cricket center.

No matter how many state-of-the-art stadiums are built, it's not where cricketers are conceived. It's the players from schools and colleges, playing in maidaans, who perform in awful conditions, and make a mark

There was no place for him to stay but he worked out a deal with the watchman of the stadium to stay in his small dingy room when the watchman was on night duty. His motto was to practice 10 hours a day. He went on to play for the country and, on his debut, was instrumental in winning the Test in Chennai, taking 16 wickets against West Indies.

The big Indian cricket dream is conceived in the moffusil towns but requires the infrastructure of metros to take wings.

The state of Indian cricket was so bad before 2002 that many cricketers played for the country by default. Some made their debut when they should have been thinking of benefit games. The Talent Resource Development Wing (TRDW) of the BCCI sent its cricket officers hunting for talent, and from nowhere, MS Dhoni and others from moffusil areas emerged. Today they form the bulk of the Indian team.

Most of the state teams have players from the districts but they say they don't get encouragement from the district officials. Nepotism is at its worst. Some years back, an India U-15 player didn't find a place in his district team because his coach was in the opposite camp in the district set-up. The boy gave up the game when he was 17.

The CDC, during the visits to the center, will collect data but since Vengsarkar was the chairman of the TRDW, he should think of appointing five Talent Resource Development Officers per zone for unearthing talent and keeping track of the development programme. If India lives in its villages, cricket lives in non-descript villages and towns.

Makarand Waingankar has spent four decades covering the grassroots of Indian cricket . He tweets here

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