Amid the hustle and bustle of Patna’s Rajendra Nagar quietly stands the sprawling Moin-ul-Haq Stadium, once the nerve centre of cricketing activities in the northern part of undivided Bihar.
When Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in 2000, it took the headquarters of the state’s cricket association — Jamshedpur — with it. The game was asphyxiated in Bihar, and the Moin-ul-Haq Stadium — named after the legendary sports administrator who was one of the founding members of the Bihar Cricket Association in 1935 — is the embodiment of the neglect that the game — and every person who played it — has gone through in all these years.
Conversely, the five-decade-old structure remained the most recognisable cricketing hub of Bihar in its 14 years in the wilderness — Bihar last played the Ranji Trophy in 2003-04 before being replaced by Jharkhand — and the ultimate symbol of hope.
Today, a visit to the stadium on a weekend afternoon provides a picture of a fair, as hundreds of youth, crammed into a football field, put up at least 30 pairs of stumps and play tennis-ball cricket on the front side of the complex. A few yards away, formal coaching camps carry on their regular nets sessions, teaching enthusiastic kids the basics of the game.
One of a kind
Despite Bihar’s exclusion from the mainstream, cricket never ceased to exist in the state, which enjoys a unique stature among the new entrants into domestic cricket because of its variegated history.
“These camps, here and elsewhere in the city and even in the districts, have kept alive cricket in Bihar,” said 53-year-old Manoj Kumar, who has been coaching since 1983. “Staying away from the mainstream hurt generations of cricketers. Now it’s time to celebrate. You can see the emergence of so many new academies,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court’s directive that paved the way for the nine teams.
In between, the struggle of Bihar’s cricketers — most of them seeking places in the Jharkhand side, with others trying their luck in West Bengal and Odisha — continued.
“Internationals like Subroto Banerjee and Saba Karim have played for the state. Several current players, such as Ishan Kishan, Shasheem Rathour and Samar Quadri, are from here but play for Jharkhand. Some of them can now play for Bihar. It’s a blessing for those who never dreamt of playing for Bihar,” said Amikar Dayal, a former India under-19 captain who runs an academy at the Moin-ul-Haq Stadium.
At least three cricketers — including Quadri, Keshav Kumar and Babul Kumar — are certain to don their home state’s cap in the upcoming Ranji season.
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The story is no different for the women. At a registration camp at the Moin-ul-Haq, girls, many of them seeking to switch from Jharkhand, stood in a queue to complete the formalities and be eligible to play for their state.
“The Jharkhand girls always got priority. We didn’t get enough chances,” said seamer Anshu Apurva.
Former Ranji player Tarun Kumar, now the women’s coach, is delighted with Bihar’s return to domestic cricket. “District-level and age-group tournaments have been happening all these years. Now the youngsters should grab the opportunity,” he said.
For men’s chief selector Manoj Yadav, it is time to show commitment and honesty. “We have pruned 400 cricketers to about 160 following conditioning camps in April. We have to pick the best to take Bihar forward,” he said. “Some age-group cricketers have been doing well. They need to be looked after.
For former India pacer Banerjee, who will coach the Bihar team, it’s time to give back to the state. “I took up the job because I played for the state. They have to start from scratch and go through a process,” he said.
Former India international Ajay Ratra, who will coach Bihar’s under-23 side, said, “I have to discuss with the BCA how best I can groom their young cricketers.”
State of disrepair
The biggest roadblock for Bihar cricket is infrastructure. The Moin-ul-Haq Stadium, which once staged One-Day Internationals — including the Sri Lanka- Zimbabwe match in the 1993 Hero Cup, the 1996 World Cup clash between Kenya and Zimbabwe and women’s World Cup matches in 1978 and 1997 — is a mess.
The playing arena and the stands are in woeful condition. It is difficult to walk through the outfield because of a thick layer of grass and weeds and pools of stagnated water, dotted with plastic bottles and polythene bags, following the monsoon rain. The stands need to be repaired. The scoreboards demand more attention than just a coat of paint.
The BCA is in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding with the state government to make the ground at the Moin-ul-Haq Stadium, which houses a Central Reserve Police Force office and a police station, too, ready to host Ranji matches. The re-laying of the pitch builds an air of optimism.
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“Since there was no cricket for so many years and we kept fighting among ourselves (in courts), we could not do any development. We were an associate member (from 2008 onwards), so we did not get much funding from the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India),” said BCA secretary Ravi Shankar Prasad Singh. “The biggest issue is infrastructure. It will take time. Since we have got full membership, we will get finance and that will ensure development.”
The state-of-the-art Urja Stadium, the home of the M. S. Dhoni Cricket Academy in Patna, is likely to host two matches this season.
The BCA has entered into an understanding with the Indian Institute of Technology in the state capital to develop its ground and make it ready for BCCI matches.
The state association has some trained hands as coaching and ground staff, but it needs to bolster itself by creating a healthy pool of support staff.
Sundry issues — conflict of interest, domicile, disciplinary actions and the lack of a proper office for the association — exist, but for the time being every stakeholder in Bihar cricket is not too concerned about the present hitches or the bitter past.
“Politics should be kept outside the ground and players from Bihar should get priority for the betterment of the game,” said Bihar Cricket Players Association president Mrityunjay Tiwari. The promise of a new dawn has united all. They understand that Bihar cricket has suffered a lot and it’s time to move forward.
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