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Ground Reality

The changing face of Hyderabad cricket

How the game in the city, once known for it's stylish players, is changing into an unhealthy uniformity

Venkat Raghav
09-Jun-2012
"A Hyderabadi batsman is naturally wristy because of the matting wickets," Vivek Jaisimha  •  Getty Images

"A Hyderabadi batsman is naturally wristy because of the matting wickets," Vivek Jaisimha  •  Getty Images

Hyderabad is known for its stylish players: ML Jaisimha, Mohammad Azharuddin, Abbas Ali Baig and VVS Laxman. A lot of stories abound about the wristiness of the Hyderabadi batsmen. Legend has it steel buckets full of water used to be handed to the batsmen. They were then asked to rotate them, clockwise and anti-clockwise, to strengthen the wrists. Vivek Jaisimha, ML's son, is quick to squash them. He says, "A Hyderabadi batsman is naturally wristy because of the matting wickets. When the golden generation of Hyderabad batsmen was growing up, there were only three turf wickets in the entire city - Fateh Maidan (Lal Bahadur Shastri stadium), Gymkhana Grounds, and the Railway stadium. As a result of the matting wickets, the batsman waited on the back foot, and played the ball late."
Whether it was buckets of water (a good if apocryphal story) or matting, both are on their way out in Hyderabad, losing out to a sense of uniformity. There are few things in Hyderabad that you can't get a coaching class for. From meditation to reiki, education to orientation, acting to editing, tennis to cricket, it's all covered by coaching centres in Hyderabad. Popular among them all are the ones for entry into a professional course, and of course cricket. Try going out early in the morning, and you find two kinds of people at the bus stop - one carrying a college bag, the other cricket kit.
A lot of Hyderabad cricket is based around the Gymkhana Ground. That there are many schools in the vicinity and the famous Paradise Hotel at a stone's throw has helped the ground become an epicentre of sorts for the cricket activity. Established in 1934-35, the ground comes with a lot of history. It is known for the leisurely games between Parsis and Nawabs. It also gained prominence when the British posted in the cantonment opted to play the Nawabs there. Though Ranji Trophy games were played from 1938-39 on, it was only in the 1982-83 season that they started playing there regularly. Since then, Hyderabad cricket has witnessed great days there - qualifying for the Ranji final in 1986-87, winning the Irani Cup in 1987-88, and scoring the highest total in the Indian domestic cricket.
Now, apart from the divisional matches one can see a lot of cricket in the private academies. Till recently, the academies were considered to be the nurseries for the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA), and there have been instances of players leapfrogging into the Ranji team with good performances at the academies.

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Hyderabad, Mumbai and Baroda are the only city teams in Ranji Trophy. They have been in the finals five times, winning the Ranji Trophy twice, last of which was in 1999-00. This year, they got promoted to the Elite League. With a young team, Hyderabad are expected to do well this time around in the Elite league.
Hyderabad cricket was at its best in the '60s and the '70s. When Nawab of Pataudi Jr arrived in Hyderabad after his rift with Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA), Hyderabad had as many as six players in the national team, and at least 11 in the South Zone squad. In those days, the players used to turn up for their employers in divisional cricket, and the crowds followed them around.
From those lofty days, Hyderabad cricket has taken a dip. It has had the workhorses, but not the mercurial ones, the ones that could command attention. In the '80s and the '90s, only a few players made it to the national team. In the '70s, the craze for cricket was such that a game between State Bank of Hyderabad and Andhra Bank used to attract a crowd of more than 10,000. Now, on a Sunday, with 25 games played around Gymkhana grounds, it's hard to spot more than 100 people viewing the action.
Old-timers think that a step in the positive direction would be to revive the Moin-ud-Dowla tournament. It was under the aegis of Nawab Moin-ud-Dowla that this tournament was established in 1930-31. Bombay Pentangular and Moin-ud-Dowla were the only city tournaments accorded first-class status. Though Bombay Pentangular has long ceased to be in play, Moin-ud-Dowla Gold Cup still continues to be played, but not with the same fervour. An invitational tournament, it had the best players in India along with the touring stars visiting the city. People of Hyderabad thronged to the venue as Jack Hobbs and Bert Sutcliffe represented the participating teams.
The other big change in the cricket in the city has been the junior cricket. Cricket followers lament the fact that the Mono Trophy (Under-19s tournament), Abbassi Trophy (Inter-school tournament), and the junior college tournaments have been done away with. As a result of these tournaments being scrapped, the lines that differentiated various levels of cricket are no longer visible.

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With the number of clubs increasing every year, the selectors find a dearth of quality. When the clubs were fewer, the process of culling was done at the club level itself
People wanting to play cricket in Hyderabad have grown over the years. This is evidenced by the increase in the number of clubs. They have grown from 90 to 220 over the last decade. With the number of clubs increasing every year, the selectors find a dearth of quality. When the clubs were fewer, the process of culling was done at the club level itself, and all that the selectors had to do was to keep a tab on the matches. To enter the club itself was a gigantic task as the player had to come through tough competition on circuit. Now it's not such a daunting task to get into a club team.
This is well reflected in the poor performances of the Ranji team. Except for Pragyan Ojha and VVS Laxman, there is not a single player from Hyderabad in the reckoning for a place in the national team. The bright spot, if any, is the fact that a largely young team came back into the Elite League last year.
Another problem, not particular to Hyderabad, is the parental interference. One visit to the academy and you will know it for yourself. There are many parents who accost the coaches. The pressure they put on the selectors and the coaches has to be seen to be believed. The performance of the team in the Ranji trophy, in the years to come, might well provide the direction of growth of cricket in Hyderabad