No bugles or drums, just an overwhelming sense of purpose. Indian cricket's newest showpiece, the National Cricket Academy, was inaugurated in an unostentatious ceremony at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore on Monday. The significance of the occasion was lost on no one, and as Raj Singh Dungarpur, Chairman of the NCA committee pointed out, this was "the most ambitious scheme that the BCCI, in its long history, has undertaken".
It has been said that to begin something is to have half the job done but the people behind this academy will be aware that this is only the first step, albeit a giant one, in the long and tortuous road towards India's cricketing renaissance.
After the customary bout of speechmaking indulged in by the chief protagonists, the gathering adjourned to the wicket where the chief guest, GR Viswanath, broke a coconut to propitiate the gods and Rodney Marsh, the guest of honour cut the ribbon to formally declare the academy open. The climax of the ceremony followed when Polly Umrigar faced a few deliveries from fellow committee member S Venkataraghavan and drove the last one imperiously through the gawkers at extra cover. After which it was business as usual as the trainees or 'athletes', as Marsh prefers to call them, were filmed at a rigorous workout at the nets under the watchful eyes of their superiors.
Only 19 of the 24 athletes have arrived so far with the rest being delayed ostensibly on the account of exams.
The BCCI was represented by its secretary, JY Lele and treasurer, Kishore Rungta. Raj Singh also read out messages of goodwill from the ICC chief Jagmohan Dalmiya and the BCCI president AC Muthiah.
"There are dark clouds on the game of cricket at the moment but the silver lining is the establishment of the NCA", was how Raj Singh summed up his welcoming speech. Amidst all the approbation, Rodney Marsh, whose presence here signifies the co-operation from the ACA on whose lines the NCA is modelled, inserted a suitable note of circumspection into the proceedings. He observed with typical Aussie bluntness that "just because these boys are at the NCA doesn't mean they'll play for India and just because India has an NCA doesn't mean they'll win every Test or one-day game from now on. A new culture has to develop in Indian cricket, a new hardness has to come from these young men and in about 4-5 years the results should start coming through", he said.
The BCCI is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts with 15 million rupees being pumped into Phase 1 of the NCA. The second phase envisages the formation of five zonal academies which will be the 'feeder line' to the NCA, as Hanumant Singh put it. In his speech, Hanumant said that "the academy is like a public school and would help to develop a very rounded personality of a sportsman". It would incorporate "personal financial management, public speaking skills, dealing with the media and with success and failure," he said. Hanumant also pertinently noted that there is no better coach than the player himself and the idea was to develop thinking cricketers among these boys. In other words they should learn to figure out their mistakes for themselves instead of being told by someone.
The door was also left open for players from the national squad to come to the academy for advice on any aspect of their game. Indeed Hanumant revealed that Rahul Dravid had indicated to him that he would like to make use of the facilities here. Marsh suggested that it was common practise in Australia where "if somebody's got a problem, he comes over to the ACA for a week or ten days and the coaching staff gives him a plan to go away with and practise". The most heartening remark of the day came again from Marshy who put the ACA's support to this venture in perspective by noting that "cricket is a game of sharing; sharing ideas, sharing friendship among different cultures. The important thing is that the game continues to thrive." Let us all stand up and applaud to such an admirable sentiment.