A fabulous facility

Fast track... the Anantapur Cricket Ground pitch has plenty of bounce and carry. It has come in for lavish praise from some of the big names in Indian cricket.-

The Anantapur Cricket Ground is being hailed as one of the best in the country. The man behind this top-class facility, a brainchild of the NGO called Rural Development Trust, is the organisation’s Associate Programme Director Moncho Ferrer.

Amidst its arid environs, the Anantapur Cricket Ground (ACG) is a refreshing oasis, its lush green grass a soothing sight for sore eyes. It has come in for lavish praise from some big names in Indian cricket. Venkatesh Prasad termed the facilities here as fantastic. India’s bowling coach was even tempted to have a go on the pitch, which is considered as the fastest in the country. Its high clay content ensures enough bounce and carry to give the bowlers and batsmen a n even chance.

“Awesome outfield and excellent infrastructure to promote sports in rural areas,” notes Dilip Vengsarkar, former chairman of the National selection committee.

“I’d love to play an international game here,” writes Piyush Chawla in the guest book.

“I’ve never seen a wicket like this in India,” says Mohd. Kaif, while Suresh Raina observes, “The ground maintenance is awesome, the dressing rooms wonderful.”

Former India cricketer and the current Andhra coach Abid Ali says he’d pray for an international match here.

Credit for the facility in Anantapur which, after Jaisalmer, receives the least rainfall in the country, goes to Moncho Ferrer, Associate Programme Director of the NGO called Rural Development Trust (RDT). The ground is RDT’s brainchild. Though the surroundings are baked by the blazing sun, the ACG is resplendent green. That colour, closest to nature, extends to the pavilion too. The tiled roof and ornate woodwork lend it an old world charm, as do the wicket gates separating the short fence encircling the arena.

How did this incredible facility come about?

“It was to be a turf wicket originally. One rain and the sloping outfield began to wear out. To check soil erosion we went for the hybrid Bermuda grass, best suited to this torrid terrain,” recalls Ferrer, who was born to a Spaniard father and an English mother, but is fluent in Telugu.

Ferrer read extensively on pitch preparation. He closely studied the 22-yard strips in England, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. He also surfed the internet for information.

Ferrer sourced clay from Kakinada which constituted over 60 percent of the content that went into the making of the five-strip square.

Ferrer, who played for Anantapur District and Keel University in the Midlands, UK, takes care to ensure the ground is eco-friendly. The ACG, the only field in the country free of fertilizer, employs vermin-composting to provide manure. Such is the caution exercised that curator Kammara Madhu uses grass mown from this field alone for earthworms to feed on, along with a concoction of neem leaves, fruit and seed, to keep the weeds and pests at bay. Lime is used for marking the crease instead of paint, which is perceived to be harmful for grass.

The ground has 13 water guns, but will soon switch to pop-up sprinklers for watering. The playing area is a plush, cushioned carpet of green, diving on which would be a delight. The gentlest of gradients make the outfield the fastest in the country perhaps. It also helps drain excess water during those rare rainfalls, making the outfield resemble a green baize.

Strangely, a splendid ground as this has hosted only a few Ranji Trophy and women’s cricket matches besides some training camps. It’s time the BCCI took a closer look at the ACG as it aims to promote the game at the grassroot level.

* * * In quest of GM title

The 2008 season ended on a high note for Ashwin Jayaram who won the Asian junior boys chess title in Chennai. For the 18-year-old Karnataka lad chess is a passion. Bitten by the chess bug six years ago, Ashwin even quit school in order to pursue his career in the sport. And when he received the Asian junior championship trophy from his idol, Viswanathan Anand, he was doubly thrilled.

At the Asian junior championship, Ashwin finished level with National champion Lalith Babu, both logging 7.5 points from nine rounds. But Ashwin was adjudged winner on better quotient in the tie-breaker.

The victory puts Ashwin (Elo 2437) on road to the Grandmaster title as he now has two GM norms (one secured in Chennai and the other in Spain in 2007). He only needs another norm to be declared a Grandmaster.

A PUC student of Sri Bhagawan Mahaveer Jain College in Bangalore, Ashwin is looking for support in his quest for the GM title. “I want to get my GM title as quickly as possible and play in world class events,” he says.

But to get to that stage in double quick time, Ashwin needs to play in major international tournaments and work with top trainers abroad who come with a fancy price tag. “So far, he has trained mostly on his own and keeps improving by reading chess literature downloaded from the net, but that alone is not sufficient. He needs hands-on training with foreign experts. And of course, he needs to play in a lot of tournaments,” says Ashwin’s father, Jayaram.

* * * Showing promise

G. MOORTHY

Aditya Prakash could not have asked for a better end to 2008 after having dominated the local junior circuit in Bangalore for quite some time. The wiry lad from Mandya made it big when he won a double crown at the junior National badminton championship in Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu.

Aditya’s interest in badminton bloomed when his family moved to Mandya, where M. S. Nagaraj, a SAI coach, took him under his wings and taught him the fundamentals of the game. He gradually went on to dominate the sub-junior events at home and won the National under-13 title in 2003. Thereafter, he won the State under-16 title in 2006 and was promptly absorbed by the Tata Padukone Badminton Academy (TPBA). Since then, Aditya has been training under the legendary Prakash Padukone and Vimal Kumar.

Aditya made rapid strides and the TPBA sent him to Indonesia in 2008 for a training stint under the doubles expert Hadi Sugiyanto. He later played in a few international events such as the Asian Junior Championship and the Indonesian Open. In September 2008, Aditya made a huge impact by finishing runner-up to team-mate Guru Sai Dutt in the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune.

Aditya moves into the senior ranks this year and it could prove crucial for his career. Coach Vimal Kumar says, “He is the best we have in our academy among boys after Anup Sridhar and Arvind Bhat. He has sound fundamentals, technically his strokes are right but he needs to toughen up mentally.”

* * * Honours shared

JOINT WINNERS... The players of Punjab and Sind Bank and Punjab Police with the trophies.-S. PATRONOBISH

The 113th edition of the Beighton Cup, which is one of the oldest hockey tournaments in the country, saw Punjab and Sind Bank (PSB) and Punjab Police (PP) being crowned joint champions.

The teams were locked 2-2 when lights failed, preventing the tie-breaker from being taken. Consequently, the captains of PSB and Punjab Police agreed to the decision of the organising committee to share the glittering trophy and the accompanying Rani Rashmony Gold Cup.

In the final that was fiercely contested, PSB went 2-0 up by half-time. Punjab Police roared back in the second half, scoring two goals in quick succession to draw level.

After the regulation time and 15 minutes of extra time failed to break the deadlock, the two teams went up to the podium to receive the trophies.

The result meant that PSB won the trophy for the fifth time, while Punjab Police emerged winner for the fourth time.

Punjab Police’s Balwant Singh was adjudged the Best Player of the tournament.

The Bengal Hockey Association (BHA), for a change, advanced the tournament to December keeping in mind the heat and humidity the teams would have to endure if the tournament were to be held in March-April. The organiser also shifted the venue to the Sports Authority of India grounds, situated in Salt Lake, to give the teams better playing field.

However, it was a pity that the Beighton Cup, a major tournament in the country, had to be played on natural grass. When the emphasis was on having as many astro-turfs as possible in the country, Kolkata does not even have one.

Despite SAI having bought a new synthetic turf for hockey at its centre here, it has not been laid for months owing to some technical problem.

THE RESULTS

Final: PS Bank 2 (Ranjodh Singh, Rajwinder Singh) drew with Punjab Police 2 (Amit Singh, Jagbir Singh). The teams were declared joint-winners. Semifinals: Punjab Police 1 (4) (Kuljeet Singh; Jugraj, Satwinder, Kuljeet and Kanwalpreet) bt Indian Oil 1 (3).