Davendra Sharma was distraught at the thought of finding a new place for the Sonnet Club to conduct its training. “We have been here for 22 years. Where do we go now?” he asked.
The college authorities have given no reason for their decision not to allow Sonnet Club their premises.
“There has not been an incident because of our trainees. We have been disciplined and adhered to all the conditions of the college. We have contributed to the college by maintaining the ground. We have been giving free training to the college students whenever they have wanted. I have not been given any reason for this unfortunate decision,” said Sharma, who has been running the club for a long time.
Founded by Tarak Sinha, who passed away in November 2021, the Sonnet Club is one of the most decorated cricket clubs in the country, having produced international players like Surender Khanna, Randhir Singh, Manoj Prabhakar, Ajay Sharma, KP Bhaskar, Atul Wassan, Ashish Nehra, Shikhar Dhawan, Rishabh Pant, Sanjeev Sharma. Among the current lot are players engaged in the IPL, like Ayush Badoni, Mayank Yadav and Hrithik Shokeen.
Aakash Chopra, an alumnus of the club, also expressed his disappointment. “Sonnet Club has been an integral part of Indian cricket, not just Delhi cricket, for half a century. The club has rendered yeoman service to the game. Sonnet has produced a dozen international cricketers and countless first-class and local cricketers. It has never taken a penny from the authorities or the state association. We have moved places before finally settling at the Sri Venkateswara College. Venky College was our home. The ground was just rocks and boulders when we acquired it for practice more than 22 years ago. There was no ground actually. We created one for the college. We have always abided by the rules of the college and paid the rent diligently. And now to be unceremoniously evicted is heartbreaking. It robs a lot of young kids of the opportunity to become better cricketers. I would say it is an inhuman act. The club was not even served a notice. Can you shut down a college just like that? They are in the business of teaching. The same is the case with a cricket academy like Sonnet. Kids come and learn. You have snatched it overnight. (Late) Tarak Sinha sir must be having tears in his eyes. I will request the college authorities to reconsider their decision. We have never created any unsavoury incidents. Not one complaint because of us. It is really sad. Sonnet Club is a place of learning, not earning. I hope it will continue to function from the Sri Venkateswara College,” said Chopra.
For Shikhar Dhawan, it was obviously shocking.
“Rajdhani College, Picnik Hut and then Venkateswara College. I have fond memories of my time with Sonnet Club. I enjoyed my time with Sonnet Club. There is an aura about the club and Tarak Sinha sir. I feel sad such an iconic club will not have a place to train. It has been a great platform for youngsters to chase their dreams and Venkateswara College is such a wonderful venue.”
Prabhakar had been visiting the Sonnet Club recently as a coach. “I celebrated my birthday (April 15) with the club trainees. It is a grand cricket institution with an amazing success story. It is unfortunate that the club has been displaced for no reason. I hope things will improve once the college authorities realise their mistake.”
Pant, undergoing a rehab at the National Cricket Academy, tweeted in anguish, “It is so disheartening to see my club that has produced so many international cricketers over the years and continues to do so has been served an eviction notice. It played a major role in shaping my cricketing career and many more like me. This is like a home for all of us. We have always followed the rules set by the college. I would like to request the governing bodies of Venkateswara College to reconsider this as Sonnet Club is not just a club, it’s like a heritage institution and a home for so many budding cricketers.”
In fact, Pant had met the College principal, Prof. Sheela Reddy, to plead for an extension.
“Rishabh made a personal request. Even Viru (Virender Sehwag) reached out to the college authorities to help us but they have just refused to entertain us. At least they should tell us the reason for evicting us from the college,” said Sharma. The club is hoping, following the assurance the college authorities have given to Pant, of a dialogue when the principal returns to the Capital later this month.
Meanwhile, cricket lovers have offered their help. International umpire Anil Chaudhary said, “My ground (in Gurgaon) is available for Sonnet Club. We have all the facilities, including floodlights. We will be happy to host the Sonnet Club.”
For Nehra, it must hurt big because he had taken personal interest in helping Sonnet Club establish in the last two decades. When the club had begun training at the Venkateswara College, he had donated his entire fee (from the Zimbabwe tour in 2000-01) to develop the ground. Nehra preferred training with the Sonnet Club boys rather than going to the Ferozeshah Kotla.
Prof. Reddy did not respond to questions from Sportstar on Monday.
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