Arunachal Pradesh: Braving marshes, potholes and puddles

With no grounds available, Arunachal Pradesh’s young cricketers have been training on a small patch of marshy land, far away from the state’s urban centres. But the state association is ambitious, and the cricketers themselves are looking forward to the new experience.

The ground that the Arunachal players use for practice has two concrete wickets. But when they are not practising, the wickets are used by the owner of the property to park his vehicles.   -  Shayan Acharya

As we drove through the hilly terrain of Nyorch — some 15 km from Naharlagun, a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas — for a moment I felt I was on a safari. The narrow roads had been left muddy by incessant rain. And at every turn there seemed to be more potholes.

Our driver suddenly paused the foot-tapping Bollywood number playing in the car. He warned us that on such roads, there had been instances of cars toppling into the ravines. Not very comforting.

But as I was imagining the worst, the vehicle stopped abruptly in front of an enclosure where a few local boys seemed to be engaged in a friendly game of cricket.

“That’s the ground you were looking for,” I’m told.

Marshy land, untrimmed grass, no changing rooms. A group of young cricketers sweating it out but seemingly playing for fun. One of them, in a white tee and wearing faded green pads, walked up to provide an introduction: “This is the Arunachal Pradesh cricket team. We are practising here for the Ranji Trophy season.”

That’s when it sunk in.

With no grounds available, the state’s young cricketers have been training on a small patch of marshy land, far away from the state’s urban centres. A nearby bush provides the cover for a changing room. With no lockers or cupboards, their gear is simply dumped in one corner of the ground. After the rain, snakes and insects turn up as spectators. Potholes and puddles threaten the safety of the players.

“The senior players have often complained to the association, but nothing has improved. There is very little we can do about it,” said Sudeep Thakur, one of the team’s fast bowlers.

The ground has two concrete wickets. But when the boys are not practising, the wickets are used by the owner of the property to park his vehicles.

And that wasn’t the end of their woes. Till recently, the Arunachal team had no qualified coaching staff, and a couple of senior cricketers who had played in age-group category tournaments organised by the Board of Control for Cricket in India had stepped up to guide the youngsters.

“We don’t have a ground and that’s a major problem. We have talent, but it is tough to do well in such circumstances. We are all dreaming about the Ranji Trophy, but it needs to be seen how we fare in the tournament,” said Kamsha Yangfo, one of the senior players.

Koli Tado, the Arunachal association’s secretary, said the lack of qualified coaching staff has led to problems and that the association is trying to address these.

The side’s preparations for the Vijay Hazare Trophy were affected as the Arunachal Cricket Association was able to host selection trials only a few days before the tournament got underway. The BCCI then stepped in and allotted a ground in Goalpara in neighbouring Assam for the Arunachal team to train.

With no lockers or cupboards, the cricketers’ gear is simply dumped in one corner of the ground.   -  Shayan Acharya

 

A state of need

In late August, the BCCI appointed former India batsman Gursharan Singh as coach of the state’s senior squad. “A good coach can guide us properly. If you are competing with other teams, it is important to have someone who can help the players,” said Techi Dorio, a senior Arunachal bowler.

Gursharan is pragmatic in his assessment of the team. “Results will not come overnight. There is a lot of work to be done, in fact from scratch. We do have some senior players who can coach and help the juniors, but it will take some time for the results to show up,” he said in early September.

While the coaching aspect has been addressed, there remains ambiguity over the selection committee. Officials insist a new panel will be formed once the association adopts a new constitution, but at present the five-member committee has just three former cricketers — Gollo Taw, Lokam Garga and Nabam Guniya (for the women’s team). The other two members are president Nabam Tuki and secretary Tado.

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That aside, the infrastructure in Arunachal is woeful. Since being granted full membership by the BCCI, the state association has begun preparing a second training ground on the outskirts of Itanagar, its capital. But the ground — located in the middle of nowhere in marshy land — is being prepared by senior cricketers as there is no BCCI-approved curator.

“The whole process started just a few days back,” said Sohail Hossain, who has played in the BCCI’s age-group tournaments, “and with heavy rain, it is impossible to get things in place.”

Locker rooms? Bathrooms? “After practice, all of us go to the nearest river and freshen up. We don’t have a swimming pool, so this is the best option. We know it is risky, but what to do?” Thakur said.

Tuki, the association president who was Arunachal Pradesh’s Chief Minister from 2011 to 2016, said there have been efforts to provide the players better infrastructure despite a financial crunch. “We are trying to acquire a few grounds and hopefully things will be sorted soon. Our players may struggle initially, but they will succeed in the long term,” he said.

The side’s preparations for the Vijay Hazare Trophy were affected as the Arunachal Cricket Association was able to host selection trials only a few days before the tournament got underway.   -  Shayan Acharya

 

Local cricket and outside talent

Tuki sounds ambitious, but the future seems anything but bright. Despite featuring as an affiliated unit in the BCCI’s age-group tournaments in the past, Arunachal Pradesh still doesn’t have a league structure.

The secretary, Tado, insists that the association encourages cricket at the grassroots level, but also admits that that has stopped. “We promoted cricket at the school-level and conducted tournaments in the past, but that has stopped for the last couple of years.” He blames it on lack of funds.

“We spend money from our pockets to run the show, but if the board doesn’t help us with financial aid, it would be tougher in the future,” said Tado, a lawyer by profession. With the BCCI taking care of its expenses for the 2018-19 domestic season, the state association shouldn’t have much to complain about. And to ensure the state gets enough opportunities, the BCCI allowed three professional players for the season. But the state association has been unable to pick names and settled for Kshitiz Sharma and Utsav Pankaj Madan from Delhi and Gujarat’s Samarth Seth — three cricketers without much credentials.

Tado said it was the best they could do. “We did not want too big a name. The idea was to bring two young cricketers who would be able to deliver.”

While Madan and Seth have no experience of playing at the higher level, Sharma has featured in 12 Twenty20 and two List A matches for Delhi. Sharma was picked by the Chennai Super Kings for the 2018 edition of the Indian Premier League, but didn’t play a game.

From its makeshift office in Itanagar that also serves as Tado’s chamber, the Arunachal Cricket Association is optimistic, an emotion that is difficult to share.

(From left) Rahul Rai, Techi Dorio and Netaji Teron. At the ground where they train, potholes and puddles threaten the safety of the players.   -  Shayan Acharya

 

The office-bearers: Nabam Tuki (president), T. C. Tok (vice-president), Koli Tado (secretary), Nabak Geda (joint secretary), Yab Lala (treasurer).

The coaches: Gursharan Singh (senior men’s team), Anuj Pal Dass (under-23 men’s team), C. S. Suresh Kumar (under-19 men’s team), Gautam Dutta (under-16 men’s team), Rangarao Ananth (senior women’s team), Diana David (under-19 and 23 women’s teams).

The selectors: Nabam Tuki (chairman of selectors), Koli Tado (convenor), Gollo Taw, Lokam Garga, Nabam Guniya.

Youth cricket: The state association does not have a proper junior cricket structure in place, even though its secretary claims that it organises school-level tournaments quite often. However, there has been no school-level cricket since 2016 and the players play at local tournaments organised by various academies.

Outstation guest players: Kshitiz Sharma (Delhi), Samarth Seth (Gujarat), Utsav Pankaj Madan (Delhi).

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