“It’s normal,” the driver said as our car is drenched, adding as he pulls to the side of the road: “Please enjoy the waterfalls and let me smoke a cigarette.”
Dotted by hills and rivers, the 90-minute journey from Lengpui Airport to Aizawl — 3, 715 feet above sea level — is a delight. To imagine cricket in such surroundings is a romance of a different kind.
Like most north-eastern states, football has been the heartbeat of Mizoram. A walk down Chanmari reinforces that point: locals in original Manchester United and England jerseys, their interest in the game only intensified by Aizawl FC’s maiden I-League triumph in 2016-17.
But Mizoram is now all set to test the cricketing waters, being one of nine new teams to be included in the 2018-19 domestic season by the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
A 26-year wait
Cricket has been played in Mizoram since the 1970s, started first by non-Mizo government officers posted in the state, and the Cricket Association of Mizoram opened its doors in 1992.
“That was the year when we first applied for BCCI affiliation. They never replied. But we tried with every president — Jagmohan Dalmiya to Sharad Pawar. The Lodha Commission came as a blessing,” said Mamon Majumder, the association’s general secretary, on a rainy evening. He uses his personal station for meetings since the organisation doesn’t have its own office.
K. Vanlalruata, the Mizoram skipper and a steady top-order batsman, walked into the room. The lit-up hamlets on the other side of the hill create a magical backdrop, but Vanlalruata’s side is far from matching that at the moment.
“There is nothing praiseworthy yet. Locally, we are good. But going outside is a different ball game. To say the truth, everything needs to be polished. We can’t compare ourselves to Mumbai or Karnataka, even Assam or Tripura. Mizoram is the latest entry in cricket officially. It is a new sport for us, but the Mizo people have sports genes,” he said.
Vanlalruata studied in Bengaluru and also led an under-19 National Cricket Academy side. “Ambati Rayudu, Robin Uthappa and all have been my good friends. I am hoping my team gets to meet them somewhere in the season,” he said. “The team is gelling well. We have been together from the probables camp.”
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Not even an Associate
Among the north-east teams, Mizoram is the only state that hasn’t had BCCI Associate status. “We didn’t play any of the Associate tournaments like the others,” Majumder said. But his connections with BCCI officials was the state’s ticket to domestic cricket. “We were included in the training of coaches programme that happened in Shillong last year. We were not a member then,” he added.
All the office-bearers of the Cricket Association of Mizoram had played a bit of the game during their student days, but lack of openings hampered their potential. “First we were players, and then we dreamt of playing on the big stage. Everybody has a dream, now the dream has come true. I could not play, but my young boys will,” said Majumder.
Mizoram’s fight for BCCI affiliation began with a search for land.
“We would meet every Saturday to look for a ground. We didn’t have much money, whatever little we had, we bought measuring tapes. Around 33 times, we moved here and there, even up to Kolasib — at the other end of the state,” said treasurer Lalrochuanga Pachuau. “We didn’t have money, but we had ideas. Being a management graduate, I thought I could sell one. My father had promised me aid of Rs. 10 lakh when I met Guwahati-based businessman Lal Rotluanga.”
So Lalrochuanga sold him an idea, and received a parcel of land that belonged to Rotluanga’s father in exchange.
“I told him that if we get to have a ground there, it would be named after his father, Suaka. It worked,” said Lalrochuanga, who was the association’s president at the time.
The foundation stone was laid in 2010, and Suaka Memorial Cricket Ground — funded with Rs11 crore from the ministry for development of the north eastern region — though the office-bearers had reached into their own pockets before the ministry dove in — was handed over to the Cricket Association of Mizoram on May 23, 2014.
Having Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla as president has its perks, but the association’s expenses are often met by its office-bearers and through donations. Consequently, the amount of junior cricket it can organise is limited, involving 30 clubs in three divisions playing mostly limited-over games.
“We organise only two four-day Tests in a year. One for the juniors, one for the seniors. We can’t have it regularly because of expenditure. You need at least Rs20-25 lakh for club cricket,” said Majumder, who takes pride in running the association in a clean and transparent manner.
At the Suaka cricket ground, BCCI-certified curators P. Lalremruata and K. Lalzuiliana spend at least six hours everyday monitoring the preparations of the three wickets. For visiting teams, the stadium’s proximity — in Sinhmui, near the airport — is an advantage. But the meandering drive might not be one for those unfamiliar with the hills — or those with weak tummies.
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