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The curtains came down on the South Zone Academy in Chennai after more than 50 days of fun and hard work in equal proportions. It was one of five zonal academies inaugurated this season as part of the National Cricket Academy's bold new foray to bring quality infrastructure to a wider cross-section of youngsters. Instead of an elite group of 20 trainees at the NCA, the move has thrown open the window of opportunity to about 120 aspirants with standard coaching techniques introduced across the board.
A brief valedictory function was held at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on Saturday to mark the successful completion of the programme, which was launched on May 2. In his welcome address, the secretary of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association Ashok Kumbhat suggested that the boys at the Academy must consider themselves fortunate to be selected for such a specialised and intensive training.
The 20 youngsters, all in the Under-18 age group, were supervised by a team of four coaches led by Syed Kirmani and also including J Abhiram, K Bharat Kumar (both former Ranji Trophy players) and CS Umapathy. The Chief Guest, A Vellayan, Director, Murugappa Group (marketing) said he was pleased that the efforts of the Board of Control for Cricket in India have been directed towards training in a much more focused way. He pointed out that there is a direct co-relation between the amount of time and funds directed towards coaching and the standards of the Indian team.
Chief coach Kirmani gave a brief report of the progress made his wards. He noted that the group was evenly balanced, comprising eight batsmen, five medium pacers, two spinners, two allrounders and three wicket keepers. Kirmani noted that the visits of Rodney Marsh, Brijesh Patel, TA Sekhar and VV Kumar to the Academy pepped up the lads and helped them garner some useful advice. The former Indian wicket keeper said it was a tough workout for the boys who had to put in strenuous efforts especially in the area of strength and endurance training, besides practising in humid and energy sapping conditions.
But he observed that there was a qualitative improvement in their standards at the end of the programme. Kirmani noted that the holistic approach incorporated the services of a physical trainer, physiotherapist, yoga expert, dietician, psychologist and videographer, all roped in to provide critical inputs that would make them well rounded players.
The boys will now adjourn to Bangalore for the inter-academy one-day tournament from June 28 to July 2 with Vikram Kumar being named captain of the South Zone team. Besides the five academies. a Combined team gathered from players across all the academies is also in the fray. Thirteen boys have been selected to the South Zone team and three others for the Combined team. Kirmani had words of consolation for those who did not make the cut, saying that they were as competent as the rest, and should not lose heart.
The boys who passed out of the Academy's portals were HT Sudhir Rao, Vinay Uthappa, Stuart Binny, Chetan Williams, Senthil Kumar and Steve Lazarus (all Karnataka), ASK Varma, K Srinivasa Rao, PAVN Raju, G Shankar Rao and Nalin Reddy (all from Andhra), T Suman and AT Rayudu (Hyderabad), Vikram Kumar, Vishal Kudawla and DT Kumaran (Tamil Nadu), Sreesanth, Vincent Gomes and Mousam Nathani (Kerala) and Sher Bahadur Yadav (Goa).
Three outstanding trainees were chosen from amongst the lot, Vikram Kumar, Rayudu and Vinay Uthappa, who were gifted with Hercules MTB Thriller bicycles. Rayudu of course is the opening batsman who created ripples during last year's Under-15 World Cup in England, making a century in the final against West Indies. But given that the man who called the shots at the Academy was arguably India's best wicket keeper, it was perhaps no surprise that the other two, Vikram Kumar and Vinay Uthappa, were fellow members of the tribe.