Democratising cricket

A glance at the profile pages of India’s latest cricketers proves that their roots are diverse and spread out. It can only get better with more venues springing forth and once cricketing infrastructure is standardised from Srinagar to Kanyakumari, there will be more Dhonis and Chahals to take the game forward.

Sachin Tendulkar walks out on to the field as players from Mumbai and Haryana give him a guard of honour on the first day of his last Ranji Trophy match at the Bansi Lal Stadium in Rohtak on October 27, 2013. The benefits of having a match in the mofussil areas are manifold. Primarily the grounds and the facilities gets the much deserved upgrade, helping the local clubs and players.   -  AKHILESH KUMAR

Cricket, originally a shepherds’ outing that gradually acquired a gentleman’s air and even launched the tradition of a tea-break in sport, found an urban-cum-royal root when it crossed the seas with the British and found fertile patches across India. The princes and nawabs of various feudal outposts embraced the game and so did the upper classes living in the then principal cities — Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.

Steadily the thud of the red cherry on the willow found an echo across the hinterland but it did take some time. Interestingly India’s first Test captain C. K. Nayudu hailed from Nagpur and not from the four cities mentioned above. Yet cricket remained the preserve of the presidencies bifurcated by England for administrative ease. Fittingly Bombay reigned and it is evident from the 41 Ranji Trophy titles in its kitty, with a large chunk pocketed during the premier domestic tournament’s formative years.

Over the years cricket in a sense has become democratised in India, its spread doesn’t end with leading cities. The advent of live television helped fans in rural areas embrace the sport and aspire to play at the highest level. The second stimulus was the staging of first-class contests in tier two cities and towns, with followers watching their heroes in flesh and blood. This acted as an added inspiration to take up the sport.

Fans cheer on during a Ranji Trophy game between Haryana and Karnataka at the Gangothri Glades Ground in Mysuru on October 25, 2015. In smaller grounds, there is always a buzz in the stands, permanent or makeshift, and the fans add to the atmosphere   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

 

That one of Indian cricket’s icons M. S. Dhoni emerged from Ranchi is a testament to the game’s all-embracing power. Long before Jharkhand’s global star emerged, we had the Mysore Express in Javagal Srinath. In the last three decades, the demographic profile of the Indian national squad has become more inclusive and there have been players from almost every corner, except the North-East. With more venues hosting domestic games, be it first class, List A or even the mushrooming hyper-local Twenty20 leagues, it is natural that the talent-base has widened and we have national players like Yuzvendra Chahal coming from Jind in Haryana.

The benefits of having a match in the mofussil areas are manifold. Primarily the grounds and the facilities get the much deserved upgrade, helping the local clubs and players. Better grounds obviously mean finer infrastructure for cricketers to ply their wares. The economic spin-off of having cricket in these places, be it a Mandya or Mysuru in Karnataka or a Rohtak in Haryana, where incidentally Sachin Tendulkar played his last Ranji Trophy game in 2013, is that hotels find their revenues improve as room occupancy shoots up thanks to these games.

That Uttar Pradesh has accounted for a sizeable influx of players into the senior squad is also due to Ranji Trophy games held in places like Kanpur, Lucknow, Meerut and Ghaziabad. The Sports Hostels in UP and these diverse venues have offered players, ranging from Suresh Raina to Bhuvneshwar Kumar, a toehold to leapfrog into the bigger stage.

The story is the same across India. Mandya, a town known for sugarcane and a milestone on the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway, threw up fast bowler H. S. Sharath, who held his own against acclaimed seamers like Abhimanyu Mithun and R. Vinay Kumar in Karnataka colours. Incidentally Vinay too is from a town called Davangere, more famous for buttery dosas and professional colleges. The tale gets repeated across the border in Tamil Nadu where places like Dindigul have come up as emerging cricketing centres.

Sunil Joshi, a man from Gadag, a north Karnataka town is now the spin-coach of Bangladesh. This is further proof of the game’s wide-ranging roots. Joshi honed his skills at the nearby bigger twin-cities of Hubli-Dharwad before finding his mettle in Bengaluru. He played for Karnataka and India and is now busy in Dhaka.

Yuzvendra Chahal, the 211th player to play ODIs for India, hails from Jind in Haryana.   -  PTI

 

It is better if domestic cricket in India maintains its tryst with smaller towns. Increasingly the metros, be it a Kolkata or a Bengaluru, hardly has any takers for the Ranji Trophy. In the latter’s M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, the audience includes a few fierce loyalists of Karnataka cricket and those who turn up from the adjoining Cubbon Park just to kill time. There are more fans for local football than for the Ranji Trophy, but when the matches are held in Mandya or Mysuru, there is a buzz in the stands, permanent or makeshift, and the fans add to the atmosphere.

Cricket was described as an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British. It now needs to turn more desi in spirit. Talent and hunger for success reside within smaller towns and rural outposts. In cities, children used to affluence and playstations often shun outdoor sport, but that isn’t the script in the interiors.

A glance at the profile pages of India’s latest cricketers proves that their roots are diverse and spread out. It can only get better with more venues springing forth and once cricketing infrastructure is standardised from Srinagar to Kanyakumari, there will be more Dhonis and Chahals to take the game forward.

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