Meghalaya cricket: Riding high on emotions

Meghalaya is far better prepared for the coming domestic cricket season than its neighbours, but it is the emotion of finally representing their state that is driving the team.

Though Meghalaya is far better prepared than its neighbours, it is not bereft of the financial woes that have plagued each of these states.

“Welcome to the Scotland of the East,” exhorts a huge billboard as you enter Shillong. Meghalaya’s capital is picturesque and has an old-world charm. The buildings and the architecture are throwbacks to the British era. And the city’s fondness for sport is evident on the drive to the city centre — the Polo Market.

The market is a bustling area with iconic landmarks, with the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium complex right in the centre. Huge floodlights loom past on the drive from the main gate of the spacious facility, a regular venue for football that hosts I-League club Shillong Lajong’s home games.

Youngsters sweat it out on the green turf of the football arena, waiting for their chance to play cricket at the highest domestic level. The stadium is not only the home of the Meghalaya Cricket Association, but also all cricketing activity in the state.

The ground regularly hosts junior-level cricket matches, but its association with the Ranji Trophy has been brief — restricted, in fact, to just one match between Assam and United Provinces all the way back in 1948. Seventy years hence, the cricket stadium is being readied for Meghalaya’s foray into the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s first-class tournaments.

Cricket has long been popular in Shillong, and the state has five Level-A coaches and one trained at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala.   -  Shayan Acharya

 

Match-ready

The wicket is made of winter rye grass, keeping the weather conditions in mind. “We have red soil here and that’s a challenge. But to ensure that we make the most of the conditions, we have got the rye grass from England. By the time the Ranji Trophy will begin, the winter will set in and it will be quite cold here. That’s why this wicket will be effective,” said Peter Jarman Lamare, a qualified curator and assistant secretary at the Meghalaya Cricket Association.

While the five other north-east states that will be also playing domestic cricket this year have struggled to be ready in time, Meghalaya has been able to maintain two grounds — the one in Shillong and the Tura District Cricket Association’s Alotgre Stadium. “We have made it a point that both the grounds are in shape. With regular cricketing activities round the year, both the facilities are well maintained,” Lamare said. Incessant rain for a couple of months hampered preparations a bit, but work has slowly resumed as the weather improved.

Cricket has long been popular in Shillong and while the other north-east states have found it tough to get local coaches affiliated with the BCCI, Meghalaya has five Level-A coaches and one trained at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala.

“We have a proper set-up at home and that puts us in a comfortable position. With league cricket happening throughout the year, even the talent pool is ready,” said Naba Bhattacharjee, secretary of the cricket association. To ease the new teams’ entry into the domestic system, the BCCI has appointed coaches for the sides, Meghalaya getting Karnataka coach Sanath Kumar for the senior men’s team, Dheeraj Jadhav for the under-23 squad and Kalpana Venktachar for the senior women’s side.

“The BCCI has come forward and helped us out with the coaching staff and that’s a positive sign,” said Bhattacharjee, who is also the convenor of the BCCI’s New Area Development Programme’s north-east committee.

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A structure in place

The Meghalaya Cricket Association conducts super, first, second as well as third division leagues to keep the cricketing activities going. “We also conduct inter-school and invitational tournaments regularly. That helps us in maintaining a talent pool,” said Gideon Kharkongor, its joint secretary. Additionally, the Shillong Cricket Academy nurtures young cricketers.

“The players from 8-14 years attend the camp and at the moment there are 300-plus players. This helps us a lot,” Kharkongor said. That the league structure has helped the state immensely is evident from the fact that some of the young talents such as Sudhir Sahani and Aakash Kumar have made it to India’s under-16 and 19 camps, respectively. “The state has a lot of talent and now that we will be featuring in the Ranji Trophy, more and more youngsters will be interested in taking up the sport seriously,” said Bhattacharjee.

The selection trials for all age groups have seen a huge response, and two seasoned campaigners — Mark Ingty and Jason Lamare — have returned to the fold, having featured in Ranji Trophy for Assam.

“Exactly 10 years back, I was told by the Assam team — the night before leaving for the match — that I won’t be able to play for them any more as Meghalaya was named an affiliated BCCI member. That’s how my dreams of playing Ranji Trophy crashed, but now that the state is back in the fold, I want to give it a try,” said Ingty, a 42-year-old fast bowler.

Naba Bhattacharjee (left), secretary of the Meghalaya Cricket Association, and Peter Lamare, a qualified curator and its assistant secretary.   -  Shayan Acharya

 

It is these emotions that are driving the team ahead of the season. The association has roped in Puneet Bisht, Gurinder Singh and Yogesh Nagar as professional players for the season. “We want to maintain a balance in the side, and as of now the team looks perfectly balanced,” Bhattacharjee said. The association has followed BCCI guidelines and made it clear that players who have spent at least 12 months in the state (as a working professional or a student) or with roots in the state can be eligible for selection. “We have tried to be transparent and fair in the selection process,” the secretary said.

Though Meghalaya is far better prepared than its neighbours, it is not bereft of the financial woes that have plagued each of these states. With no funding from the BCCI yet, the show is run by the officials, with some patrons time and again providing monetary support. “That’s a major problem, but we are trying to run the show despite challenges. The idea is to ensure that the state cricketers get enough exposure,” said Bhattacharjee.

Despite this, the association has plans for growing the game in the state. “We have some major plans, but for that there has to be proper funding,” said Bhattacharjee.

The office-bearers: Conrad Sangma (president), Raynonald Kharkamni (vice-president), Eddy Shylla (vice-president), Marcus Marak (vice-president), Naba Bhattacharjee (secretary), Gideon Kharkongor (joint secretary), Dhruba Thakuria (treasurer), Peter Lamare (assistant secretary), Paul Lyngdoh (advisor).

The coaches: Sanath Kumar (senior men’s team); Dheeraj Jadhav (under-23 men’s team); Yoginder Puri (under-19 men’s team); Biswajit Dasgupta (under-16 men’s team); Kalpana Venkatachar (senior women’s team).

The selectors: Senior selection committee: Asa Warjri (chairman), Lohbor Blah, Saljagringrang R. Marak. Under-16 selection committee: Saibal Dasgupta (chairman), Bharat Roy, Donbok Ryntathiang. Under-19 selection committee: Saibal Dasgupta (chairman), Sudesh Pradhan, Donbok Ryntathiang

Youth cricket: The state association runs divisional cricket leagues and conducts inter-school cricket tournaments. The Shillong Cricket Academy has 300-plus young cricketers in the age group 8-14. A group of professional coaching staff nurtures the young talent.

Outstation guest players: Puneet Bisht (Delhi), Gurinder Singh (Tripura), Yogesh Nagar (Delhi).