Cricket in Sikkim: Fuelled by hope and nothing else

For a state where tourism is the major industry, entering the cricketing arena hasn’t been easy. But it has dared to dream.

Sikkim’s young cricketers set up nets in one of the stands at Paljor Stadium and use one section of the gallery as a cemented pitch.   -  Shayan Acharya

Mornings in Gangtok are picturesque. As the clouds play hide and seek, and the iconic Kanchenjunga appears in the far distance, a bunch of boys brave the chill as they walk into Paljor Stadium, located in the heart of the city.

A popular sporting destination, people across age groups gather at the stadium to play friendly football games in the morning. But even as one football team celebrates a goal, a group of young cricketers dressed in white set up makeshift nets in one of the stands — they are using one section of the gallery as a cemented pitch.

It’s tough, but what are Sikkim’s cricketers to do when there is no proper ground in the state?

“What to do if we don’t have a ground? We have been training like this for years. It is difficult, but we are used to it by now,” said Robin Limboo, who has been part of the National Cricket Academy’s zonal camp.

The Mining Ground in Rangpo is affiliated with the BCCI, but it is in no state to host first-class matches and has hardly any facilities.   -  Shayan Acharya


Little to build on

A state where football is popular, Sikkim caught on to cricket late. But the younger generation has latched on to its opportunities, resulting in a strong pool as the state joins the ranks of India’s first-class cricket teams this year. Banking on these young players, the Sikkim Cricket Association decided not to rope in professional guest players for the Ranji Trophy.

“We want to give our local boys a chance, and this move will help them deliver the goods and at the same time their confidence will go up,” Lobzang Tenzing, president of the Sikkim Cricket Association, said.

While the state has previously played in the age-group category in the East Zone between 1994 and 2010-11, cricket in Sikkim has struggled in the absence of a proper ground. The Mining Ground in Rangpo is affiliated with the Board of Control for Cricket in India, but it is in no state to host first-class matches and has hardly any facilities. With bushes growing all over, it has been transformed into marshy land. The Mining Ground is in such a state of disrepair that the state association found it difficult to even conduct trials in August.

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“Over the years, there has not been any maintenance of the ground, and now it has reached such a stage where even a local match cannot be conducted here,” Tenzing said, laying the blame on previous administrators. Since taking charge in 2015-16, he and the other office-bearers have tried acquiring grounds, but with no financial support that has not been quite possible.

In such a situation, the Sikkim team is expected to play its Ranji Trophy home games in Assam. “We had written to the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) stating that there is no ground and we can’t conduct matches here. They have agreed to allot us an alternative venue,” Tenzing said.

The association’s problems are not limited to grounds. The office-bearers run the show on their own money. “So far, there has been nothing, but hopefully things will improve someday. We want the game to grow and will focus on that,” Tenzing said.

The BCCI has named former Delhi cricketer Sanjeev Sharma as the coach of the men’s senior team and former India coach Purnima Rau for the women’s side. The addition of the two stalwarts is a major boost for the state as it has only two BCCI accredited B-level coaches — Sonam Palden Bhutia and Kikam Bhutia. Palden has been unable to take up any coaching responsibility because he’s also a secretary at the state association, but former women’s team cricketer Kikam has worked at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru and will be coaching the state’s under-19 and 23 women’s teams.

“This is a big opportunity for all of us. Coaching your state team is a big honour and hopefully we will be able to deliver the goods,” said Kikam.

At the trials in August, nearly 100 players gathered at the Mining Ground, and the association cross-checked the details of all before giving them a shot at selection.   -  Shayan Acharya


Getting support

As the Ranji Trophy nears, Sikkim’s cricket team is increasingly getting support.

“Everyone wants the team to do well and the response is huge. The young cricketers from the state are eager to take up cricket and that’s a big thing for us, given the fact that Sikkim is mostly known for football,” said Roshan Prasad, a spokesperson for the Sikkim Cricket Association.

At the trials in August, nearly 100 players gathered at the Mining Ground, and the association cross-checked the details of all before giving them a shot at selection. “We also had candidates who are studying in Sikkim or whose parents are here. We have made it clear that they must spend at least two years in the state to be eligible for selection. We have been able to maintain the standard so far,” said Prasad, who monitored the process.

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While the association’s officials admit that the absence of a local league structure has made their job difficult, they are confident of remedying that soon. “We started a school-level talent hunt league last year, but this time we have not been able to conduct it so far. But, hopefully, things will fall in place,” said Tenzing.

With no funding yet, the association operates from the Sonam Delek Hotel, located at the heart of Gangtok city, and this is where its members gather regularly to discuss the road ahead. “We know there are lots of challenges, but then, we have been able to maintain a clean image and that, we are sure, will help us in the future,” Palden said with a smile.

(From left) One of the probables Robin Limboo, under-16 boys’ coach Prakash Lama and Lobzang Tenzing, president of the Sikkim Cricket Association.   -  Shayan Acharya


The office-bearers: Lobzang Tenzing (president), Namgyl Kazi (vice-president), Gopal Sharma (vice-president), Karma Gelay (vice-president), Aswin Oberoi (vice-president), Sonam Palden Bhutia (secretary), Naresh Agarwal (treasurer), Nayan Bhutia (joint secretary), Rinzing Namgel Bhutia (joint secretary).

The coaches: Sanjeev Sharma (senior men’s team); Lakpa Chhetri (under-19 men’s team); Prakash Lama (under-16 boys’ team); Purnima Rau (senior women’s team); Kikam Bhutia (under-19 and 23 women’s team). P. V. Shashikanth was earlier named as the under-23 coach, but has now been reassigned as senior team coach of Mizoram. A replacement has not been named yet.

The selectors: Topden Lepcha, Ghyaphel Bhutia, Diwash Gurung, Dhiraj Gurung.

Youth cricket: The state association does not have a proper league structure. Last year, it had organized a school-level talent hunt tournament, but that could not be held this time around.

Outstation guest players: Sikkim chose not to have any outstation guest players.

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