As Pondicherry searched for a firm hold over the Railways in its second-ever Ranji Trophy Elite group match, two men observed the action closely from the sidelines.
Former Kerala cricketers Raiphi Gomez and V. A. Jagadeesh were in attendance as Pondicherry posted 342 in its first innings on day two. While its bowlers had a tough time having a cracking at the Railways’ top-order in the second session, Raiphi said: “The balance could change any moment. It’s evenly poised right now, but anything could happen in the next couple of sessions or so.”
As anticipated, Pondicherry bounced back late in the day with the wicket of Railways opener Vivek for 92, leaving the game wide open. But what exactly were the two Kerala stars up to at the Guru Nanak College ground in Chennai?
“I have associated with Pondicherry as a guest player in 2018/19 when they came into the domestic scene. Now, I am part of the selection committee with Jagadeesh as chairman. Our former team-mate Sony Cheruvathur, Mohammed Faiq and Syed Shahabuddin are also part of the panel,” former all-rounder Raiphi said.
FOLLOW LIVE - Ranji Trophy, Round 2, Day 4
For a team that made its first domestic appearance in the 2018-19 season in the Plate division, Pondicherry has done exceedingly well to reach the Elite groups across formats under four full seasons. A share of this rise has been owed to its guest players who have been integral members of the squad every season.
“Pondicherry has always had a good relationship with Kerala. While cricket has always flourished there, it was only in 2018 that BCCI granted them a separate status. To develop a team from scratch, they (Cricket Association of Pondicherry) required the expertise of former players and they approached the Kerala Cricket Association for the same. That’s how we have all been able to come in,” says VA Jagadeesh, one of Kerala’s leading run-scorers in the Ranji Trophy.
Raiphi summarises the journey so far: “Team development has been the base of this growth. The CAP has carried out the development pretty well and we’re fortunate to have shared our cricketing experience for this. In the last few tournaments, we have given tough competition to big sides like Mumbai, Tamil Nadu and Bengal and that only shows the game has levelled up in Pondicherry,” he said.
REPORT - Pondicherry v Railways, Day 4
“The infrastructural boost under the association has also been an immense factor. Within our premises, we have eight grounds of the first-class standard, fully equipped with all modern facilities. All the players play a lot of matches on these wickets and prepare for each tournament accordingly. They also play formats like the T-10 to improve their skill... a lot of work has been put in behind the scenes,” Raiphi added.
The selectors also threw light on the process they follow as selectors at the grassroots level.
“Most players at that level will have one skill that stands out. Our job is to polish them and enhance them to the maximum,” Raiphi said. Jagadeesh added: “We cannot just rely on spotting talent from the performance in the nets any more.”
Gomez also lauded the senior pair of skipper Rohit Damodaren and his deputy Paras Dogra for conditioning a young side.
“Rohit’s man-management skills and captaincy have boosted the side. Dogra has also been a massive player for us. He is almost like our local player itself now (laughs). The experience of mingling with these guys has naturally elevated the young cricketers in Pondicherry,” Raiphi said.
‘Ahead of the curve’
With this red-ball season, Pondicherry has also become one of the first domestic teams in the country to launch player names on its jerseys. The practice is a relatively new one; it started at the international level only in 2019, at the inaugural World Test Championship.
“That’s a nice innovation to have at this level. To be honest, I wasn’t aware of this development, but it does look nice out there, doesn’t it? These actions and innovations are an added boost to the players,” Raiphi remarked.
“We are always ahead of the curve (laughs),” Jagadesh quipped.
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