DES­TI­NA­TION UP­HILL

Cricket in the North­east states has taken baby steps, but with­out BCCI sup­port & ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture they have miles to go, re­ports

Sunday Express - - SPORT -

Alo­cal league with 50-odd teams spread across four di­vi­sions, age-g roup tour­na­ments run by the state body, school and col­lege games. About 300 matches, plus prac­tice ar­range­ments for var­i­ous age­group teams in men’s and women’s cat­e­gories. That’s rou­tine ac­tiv­ity for a state as­so­ci­a­tion play­ing in BCCI tour­na­ments.

Mak­ing these ac­tiv­i­ties unique at the ground in a corner of Shil­long’s Jawa­har­lal Nehru Sports Com­plex is the fact that prac­ti­cally, it’s the only one at the dis­posal of Megha­laya Cricket As­so­ci­a­tion. There is an­other, about 300kms away, which makes this plot of land the de facto sole des­ti­na­tion for bat and ball in a state with a pop­u­la­tion of 3.2 mil­lion. With a pretty, lit­tle pav­il­ion over­look­ing, the ground was fight­ing to be in shape on a wet Oc­to­ber af­ter­noon.

“We have a long mon­soon and short cricket sea­son. Till a few months ago, a roller and a mower was all we had to tend to this ground. Yes, nearly 300 matches are played here,” grins Peter La­mare, a cricket coach cer­ti­fied by the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Sports, who is also a qual­i­fied pitch cu­ra­tor. worth a look.

Shil­long of­fers a reflection of the state of cricket in a re­gion that has be­come In­dia’s cra­dle of an­other game. Teach­ing boys and girls right el­bow po­si­tion while driv­ing on the back foot is tougher than get­ting them to run after a football. And that’s what they see hun­dreds do, at the Shil­long La­jong FC grounds ad­join­ing the one for cricket.

Megha­laya, Ma­nipur, Na­ga­land, Arunachal Pradesh, Mi­zo­ram and Sikkim are play­ing in tour­na­ments in­tro­duced by the BCCI this sea­son in ev­ery cat­e­gory ex­cept for se­nior men. These events fea­ture the six and Bi­har, with the top two to com­pete against two each from the estab­lished zones of North, East, South, West and Cen­tral. Grant­ing these states full BCCI mem­ber­ship, which will en­ti­tle them to funds, is pend­ing in the court, even though the Lodha com­mis­sion has rec­om­mended their in­clu­sion. From 2009-13, they re­ceived `50 lakh a year as grant for as­so­ciate mem­bers. Full mem­bers of BCCI got an av­er­age of `25 crore an­nu­ally in that pe­riod.

Other than funds and there­fore in­fra­struc­ture, nat­u­ral fac­tors act as im­ped­i­ments. Grounds are hard to come by due to the to­pog­ra­phy. Long mon­soon trun­cates the sea­son. Turf wick­ets in good con­di­tion are a rar­ity, which forces play­ers to ce­ment or mat sur­faces. It was only this year that they saw ground main­te­nance equip­ment for the first time, given by a BCCI com­mit­tee set up for bet­ter­ment of the game in the re­gion. In terms of pri­mary in­fra­struc­ture like ground, pitch, It’s easy to dis­miss the en­try of six North­east states into the BCCI fold through a women’s U-19 tour­na­ment in Dhan­bad as a farce, be­cause fig­ures like 100 wides, to­tals of 17 and 18 made head­lines. But be­fore writ­ing them off, where they come from and what they make do with is prac­tice fa­cil­i­ties, these states are ages be­hind those with own sta­di­ums, in­door train­ing cen­tres and mul­ti­ple venues.

“Ex­pen­di­tures run up to a sub­stan­tial amount, for con­duct­ing tour­na­ments and main­te­nance of ground, other than pay­ing coaches hired from time to time. With­out BCCI fund­ing, it’s dif­fi­cult to grow or sus­tain. This as­so­ci­a­tion is man­ag­ing with in­ter­est of the money saved from what we got in the past and pri­vate pa­tron­age,” says Naba Bhat­tachar­jee, sec­re­tary of Megha­laya Cricket As­so­ci­a­tion and mem­ber of the BCCI’s North­east com­mit­tee. An­nual re­quire­ment is around `25 lakh.

A few states from the North­east have hired out­sta­tion play­ers even for U-19 teams. There lies the chal­lenge, of at­tract­ing the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion in­stead of bank­ing on pro­fes­sion­als or the sec­tion orig­i­nally from the plains, who have set­tled in the hills and are bet­ter versed with the game. Sons of the soil are new to cricket, at­tracted after IPL be­came TV phe­nom­e­non.

“None of the girls in our U-19 team knew cricket a few months ago. We se­lected them from other sports, got coaches to teach them ba­sics and per­sisted with them, know­ing that re­sults won’t be good,” La­mare says. All play­ers of this team are of Khasi ori­gin. Some were strug­gling to get the ball to the striker be­fore it bounced twice, dur­ing prac­tice 10 days be­fore the women’s U-19 event in Dhan­bad.

“But we want to fo­cus on them be­cause the in­ter­est is grow­ing,” as­serts Bhat­tachar­jee. “To com­pete with football we need roundthe-year ac­tiv­ity. It’s es­sen­tial to There is no day­dream­ing. They know to com­pete with states play­ing cricket for over a cen­tury will take time. They also think re­sults will not be as bad with men’s teams. Even after sep­a­rat­ing from As­sam to be­come a state in 1972, Megha­laya has pro­duced first-class crick­eters. Fast bowler Mark Ingty played for As­sam from 2001-06. La­mare’s son Ja­son opened the bat­ting for the same team around the same time. Jonathan Rongsen is a bats­man for Rail­ways from Na­ga­land, who grew up in Ben­galuru. So tal­ent is not the pri­mary prob­lem.

“We are re­al­is­tic and not ex­pect­ing in­stant re­sults,” La­mare sums up the mood. “There are promis­ing play­ers in the boys’ U-16 cat­e­gory. It’s this group that we have to con­cen­trate on, so that they can take on estab­lished teams after five-six years. It was im­por­tant to make a start and that has been made. We see a rise in num­bers tak­ing to cricket.”

He was not ex­ag­ger­at­ing. Par­ents of over 300 chil­dren shell out `400 a month for at­tend­ing the academy run by the as­so­ci­a­tion, 40 teams take part in the in­ter­school tour­na­ment and be­cause the ground is open to all, it’s com­mon to see dads bring­ing kids for brief net ses­sions be­fore drop­ping them off to school. Will is not the prob­lem in the hills. Just that with­out money, it’s dif­fi­cult to find a way. have an in­door fa­cil­ity, for which we have the space. We also have to de­velop more grounds and a small stadium. None of it is pos­si­ble un­til the BCCI gives us recog­ni­tion.” Atreyo Mukhopad­hyay

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