A king who put off his coronation to play cricket!

A return to roots, multi-sports acumen and a star coach — Manipur’s cricket team is filled with heartfelt stories.

The Luwangpokpa ground in the foothills of Imphal can easily accommodate 12,000 spectators, but now it needs assistance from the BCCI in order to get equipment.   -  Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya

Homecomings are always special.

Shelley Shaurya left Imphal for Delhi when he was three. He honed his craft at the Madan Lal Academy at the Siri Fort Sports Complex that was built for the 1982 Asian Games, even representing the capital in domestic Twenty20 cricket. Twenty-two years later, his roots pulled him back to where he was born.

At Imphal’s Luwangpokpa Stadium in the last week of August, as Manipur’s cricketers prepared for their maiden season of domestic cricket, Shaurya shadowed the boundary line. He’d just landed and hadn’t had time to change. His black tee and denims drew looks on the greens.

“Are you a bowler?” Thoudam Akshaykumar Singh, the side’s senior-most player, asked.

“Yes, I am a medium pacer. I came here for an introduction since I don’t know the players,” Shaurya replied.

Later, at an interaction chaired by Manipur Cricket Association honorary secretary Singam Priyananda Singh and Tommy Thingom, its general manager, Shaurya let his emotions flow: “I remember the windows and the main door of the house that we used to live in. It’s been many years.”

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The thought of holding a cricket bat in his native state had never crossed his mind. The bowling all-rounder’s return to his roots is an inspirational tale that advertises the strength of cricket and underlines the role of the domicile window — created by the Board of Control for Cricket in India for the new domestic sides — in identifying cricketers who had moved base.

Thoudam Akshaykumar Singh (left) and K. Homendro Meitei are both looking forward to turning out for Manipur in domestic cricket.   -  Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya

 

A king who played cricket

Manipur’s affair with cricket goes back to 1907, when Maharaja Sir Meidingngu Churachand — known as the god of cricket in the state — postponed his coronation by a week to play a cricket match in Dehradun.

As Manipur prepares to flex its muscles in domestic cricket — 111 years since that incident — it’s all unreal for Singam, who pays nearly 90 per cent of the association’s expenses. “The association started in 1975. Most of us office-bearers were players. I left my bank job for the love of cricket. Now that I am receiving calls from professional players. It all feels surreal. We have so many options,” he said, browsing through the fixtures for Vijay Hazare Trophy.

Singam was a star cricketer in the local league set-up and many cricketers grew up idolising him. K. Homendro Meitei, a fast bowler and Manipur’s captain, is one. “Singam bhaiyya has also struggled with us. To us, watching cricket was only on television and whoever we watched on the ground were our heroes. He is one of them. I remember I had gone to watch a match as a kid where he had scored a hundred,” said Meitei, who trains with one of Singam’s contemporaries, Akshaykumar.

“We climb hills, trek for fitness tests, play table tennis,” said Akshaykumar. Meitei interrupts him: “Water polo, too.”

Akshaykumar has represented Manipur in table tennis as well, and he still has the hunger to perform in any sport at the age of 45. “I don’t know whether I will be in the squad or not, but I am liking the entire process that I see,” he said. Twenty-seven-year-old Meitei, who draws inspiration from South Africa pace greats Allan Donald and Dale Steyn, has been a star player in the Plate and Elite division tournaments in the state, being one of the highest wicket-takers. “Due to the rains, the focus at times shifts to indoor games. Otherwise, we are a decent cricket team.”

Manipur has signed on Yashpal Singh, who’s played for Services and Tripura and averages nearly 49 in first-class cricket, as a guest player.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

Climbing their way up

The Luwangpokpa ground in the foothills of Imphal can easily accommodate 12,000 spectators, and the stands are filled during the Elite matches. But now it needs assistance from the BCCI. “We need all equipments. Everything is essential. Being in the North-East, we receive a lot of rain. So we would need a good quality super-sopper. We need indoor training facilities as well,” said Singam.

In 2010, Manipur was the runner-up in the BCCI Associate and Affiliate Members tournament for senior women held in Shillong. In 2012, the state’s under-22 boys were the champions of the Associate tournament. Two years later, the under-19 and 16 boys continued the trend.

“We did not get any opportunity to play in the senior category. There has been no proper tournament for the senior men’s side till now,” said Singam.

Irrespective of how Manipur fares this season, it surely knows how to pick the best employees. Former India cricketer Shiv Sunder Das impressed the Manipur colts at a camp in Shillong in 2016. The goodwill continued and last month he agreed to coach the rookies as soon as he was approached.

And Singam pulled off a master stoke when he roped in Yashpal Singh — who’s played for Services and Tripura and averages nearly 49 in first-class cricket — as a guest player.

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“I think it is a new challenge for me, as they will be playing Ranji [Trophy] for the first time. I am quite excited about the new job. The camp, back then, was a good experience. There were a few Manipur players there. I think they are quite fit,” Das said. “It is also a challenge for them to assess themselves at the highest level.”

As we walked out of the stadium, Shaurya whispered that there was not much difference between Ranji players and internationals. “It is all in the mind and that is what I am going to tell them.”

Shaurya was the first Manipur-born cricketer to be selected to play in the Indian Premier League, but he was benched by the Gujarat Lions, though he did bowl to legends of Indian cricket in the nets.

“It’s just the mental aspect which holds the key. They were getting out on the same deliveries [like the Ranji players] at the nets. When a match is on, the international players score on mindset. The local players have a certain pressure to perform. I can share all these experiences when I am in the Manipur dressing room,” he said.

The office-bearers: Rajkumar Imo Singh (president), Chongtham Chaoba Singh (vice-president),Singam Priyananda Singh (honorary secretary), Peter Kshetrimayum (honorary treasurer), Laithangbam Binoy Singh (joint secretary), Tommy Thingom (general manager).

The coaches: Shiv Sunder Das (senior men’s team), Probol Dutta (under-23 men’s team), Samurailatpam Ranjit Sharma (under-19 men’s team), Singam Priyobrata Singh (under-16 men’s team), Pushpanjali Banerjee (senior women’s team), Ritu Dhrub (under-19 and 23 women’s team).

The selectors: Col (retired) W. Inaotomba Singh, B. Biswajit, A. Homeshwor Sharma, U. Jasobanta and K. Tejbanta.

Youth cricket: The state plays age-group tournaments in the Elite and Plate groups.

Outstation guest players: Yashpal Singh (Tripura), Lakhan Arjun Rawat (Uttar Pradesh), Hrithik Kanojia (Delhi).

 

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