Uttarakhand cricket: The pooling together of ideas

The ambiguity surrounding organised cricket in Uttarakhand signifies its status as one of the country’s cricketing backwaters. But what could be the catalyst for rapid and permanent changes is success in the Ranji Trophy.

The Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium seems idle for now, but IL&FS, which runs the facilities, claims it will host about 35 matches during the Ranji Trophy.   -  Abhishek Mukherjee

Overlooking the thick foliage on a downward slope of the undulating terrain of Gunialgaon, on the outskirts of Dehradun, the quaint Abhimanyu Cricket Academy looks serene in the milder climes of the hills. The horizontally spread brick-coloured building isn’t out of place amid the quietness around — the quiet interrupted from time to time by softly chirping birds. Betraying this atmosphere, however, is a palpable buzz around the institute — groundsmen are hard at work and officials with Uttarakhand Cricket Consensus Committee (UCCC) identity cards are moving about busily and congregating at the office located at one end of the main building.

The director of the facility, R. P. Easwaran, is impatient and stretched as he tries to fulfil his obligations to Uttarakhand cricket in the lead-up to the kernel of the domestic season — the Ranji Trophy. As one of the two comprehensive and state-of-the-art cricketing facilities in the state, his academy, although private, assumes importance as the region gears up to enter a new era.

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The state of affairs

With no official cricket association, unlike most other states in the country, Easwaran and his academy are assigned the task of overseeing the Ranji Trophy selection trials for Uttarakhand. The National Cricket Academy-accredited selectors — Suru Naik, Kalyan Krishna and Krishan Mohan — are staying at the facility, as is the captain of the new Ranji side, former Delhi all-rounder Rajat Bhatia.

The other major cricketing facility in the city, the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium — built by the state government and handed over to private contractor IL&FS — seems idle for now. The contractor claims it will host about 35 matches during the Ranji Trophy. The stadium may have been built to be the cricketing hub of the state, but without a cricket association based here or any organised cricket in the region, its guardians are hoping for a generous training calendar by the Afghanistan Cricket Board — the stadium serves as the team’s home ground — besides an array of fixtures granted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India in the domestic season for regular utilisation of its infrastructure.

Former Delhi all-rounder Rajat Bhatia is the captain of the new Uttarakhand side.   -  R. V. Moorthy

 

“We are going to shortly make our calendar as soon as we get the information from the BCCI. The consensus committee will have to inform us as to what matches are going to take place, and the firm dates. We have not received any formal letter from whichever agency is deciding on the venues and other things,” said Vipin Ahluwalia, general manager at IL&FS subsidiary Dehradun Arena, which oversees the stadium.

Other options, such as corporate matches or “packages” are likely to be pursued, too, according to IL&FS. “Apart from BCCI-sponsored cricket, we can have corporate matches as well,” said Ahluwalia.

The other parts of the apparatus are four rival associations that have jostled for space to be the official representative of cricket in the state: the Cricket Association of Uttarakhand (founded by P. C. Verma), the Uttaranchal Cricket Association (begun by former first-class cricketer Sunil Khanna), the Uttarakhand Cricket Association (led by Divya Nautiyal) and the United Cricket Association (begun by former Test cricketers Chetan Chauhan and Rajindar Pal). Bringing these groups together is the BCCI convener Ratnakar Shetty, who aided in forming the UCCC, which, besides consisting of members from all rival groups, includes a state government nominee and a BCCI representative.

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Shetty has the Abhimanyu Cricket Academy in the scheme of things for the moment. Having been following Uttarakhand cricket since 2002, he says, “My suggestion is for the BCCI to have a dialogue with the state government and identify three playgrounds for local cricket with minimum basic facilities like dressing room, match official rooms and a number of nets.”

Easwaran believes the factions have “no vision.” He says, “They wish to become the king but do not know how to run the kingdom.

“Cricket doesn’t happen without spending money. The people who want to be officials — they don’t have money in their pocket or they do not have the contacts to raise the kind of money,” Easwaran said, adding: “As they say in Hindi, ‘Bina mare swarg nahi milta’. We have to go for it. Nobody’s prepared to do it.”

For now, though, he has to face the ire of the parents of some aspirants due to a misunderstanding in the selection criteria for the ongoing trials for the Ranji Trophy. The consensus committee, aided by Easwaran, has finalised a list of 45 players, which will be further pruned to 15.

Easwaran says he cannot facilitate open trials as in that case, “5,000 players will give trials.” The consensus committee, with the understanding of Shetty, has therefore been asked to narrow down the field to “100-125 players based on their past performances.

“Since we don’t have credential criteria for selection trials, for the first year we have this arrangement. From the next year we’ll see, we’ll make it open,” Easwaran says.

Out of the backwaters

The ambiguity surrounding organised cricket in Uttarakhand signifies its status as one of the country’s cricketing backwaters. But what could be the catalyst for rapid and permanent changes is success in the Ranji Trophy. The state has roped in three guest players — Rajasthan batsman Vineet Saxena, Tamil Nadu all-rounder R. Malolan and captain Bhatia. They will be the only players not “local” or belonging to the state. Shepherding all of them will be head coach K. P. Bhaskar, a former batsman and coach of Delhi.

Bhatia will be back after first-class wilderness as he missed the Ranji Trophy last season. Instead, he plied his trade for Gazi Group Cricketers in the Dhaka Premier League, a List A competition in Bangladesh.

Looking ahead to his new assignment, Bhatia says, “It’s a new challenge for everyone here. I hope to help in educating them in a proper way, giving them an environment where whatever they are doing comes naturally. It will be a huge task, definitely. I need to get the support of everyone.”

Decision-making and strategies will have to be developed on the spot, he says.

The team, placed alongside Bihar, Puducherry, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Sikkim in the Plate Group, will aim to claim top spot to qualify through to Group C.

When it plays Bihar on November 1, Uttarakhand will officially be a Ranji Trophy participant. The background work to be a prominent cricketing region is making progress as the consensus committee is working to organise a firm cricketing set-up in the state, which includes district competitions, age-group matches, zonals and inter-zonals.

Shetty believes the state will produce good cricketers in the future. “This is a huge task, definitely. The structure is in place. What is required is competition experience. The state will churn out good players in the future as it does have the talent.”

With no official cricket association, the Abhimanyu Cricket Academy was assigned the task of overseeing the Ranji Trophy selection trials for Uttarakhand.   -  Abhishek Mukherjee

 

The office-bearers of the UCCC: Ratnakar Shetty (convener); Balraj Passi (Uttarakhand government nominee and former member of Parliament); Rochit Malhotra (appointed by BCCI and in charge of finance); Pradeep Singh (Uttaranchal Cricket Association); Chandrakant Arya (Uttaranchal Cricket Association); Mahim Verma (Cricket Association of Uttarakhand); Hira Bist (Cricket Association of Uttarakhand); Divya Nautiyal (Uttarakhand Cricket Association); Sanjay Gusain (United Cricket Association).

The coaches: K. P. Bhaskar (senior men’s team), P. Krishna Kumar (under-19 men’s team). The coaches for the other age-group categories for the men and women have not been decided.

The selectors: Suru Naik, Kalyan Krishna and Krishan Mohan.

Youth cricket: Uttarakhand does not have any delineated junior cricket structure.

Outstation guest players: Rajat Bhatia (Delhi), Vineet Saxena (Rajasthan) and R. Malolan (Tamil Nadu).