A vibrant NCA is a must

Ignorant critics feel the NCA is a mere show piece, a monumental white elephant caught up in theory and impractical ideas.

AMRIT MATHUR

Brijesh Patel understands commerce as much as cricket and has set a hot pace to achieve his agenda. — Pic. V. GANESAN-

TIME was, years ago, when Bombay sustained Indian cricket. Historians say the sport started because the Parsees wanted to emulate the ruling elite and later it became popular. People realised cricket helped in social advancement — it was a valuable instrument to climb in society.

Bombay became Indian cricket's home and produced outstanding players and a definite cricket tradition. It was famous for a batting philosophy which said the bowler must be crushed, batsmen must not lose their wicket at any cost. Kids were taught to play straight, keep their heads down, not take risks — and just pile up runs.

Bombay controlled and enriched Indian cricket for almost a century. But lately the scene shifted to Bangalore, India's new commercial hub. A walk round Chinnaswamy stadium is enough to indicate that modern Indian cricket is powered from this city, it is here that a heady, intoxicating cocktail of cricket and commerce is produced.

Unlike other cricket centres in India which come to life only during international games, the KSCA is active throughout the year. One quick glance reveals the large influence of commerce: the clubhouse is packed, the bar is busy, lots of beers are drunk and in the process serious money is generated. Treadmills in the gym are never free, the swimming pool is forever crowded, except when temperatures drop to 21 degrees and members opt for sweaters instead of swim wear.

To meet the ever increasing non-cricket needs, construction is going on to build a shopping complex and other sports/fitness/entertainment related facilities. Bangalore is on the move under Brijesh Patel, a doer who understands commerce as much as cricket. With in-stadia advertising rights fetching close to a crore, and there being other streams of revenue, Brijesh has set a hot pace to achieve his agenda for all round expansion. His objective: to create a complex as good as anywhere else abroad.

Importantly, while this activity is unfolding, the focus on cricket has not been lost. Karnataka, after one year in grade B, is back in the senior Ranji league and there is a determined move to progress in cricket. To tap talent outside Bangalore facilities are being improved, talent scouts despatched to smaller towns, coaches appointed and a state cricket academy established. All this is part of a plan to make Karnataka the best cricket state in the country, the noble objective backed by solid action. Hence junior teams have trainers and psychologists, they get attractive equipment and every latest input.

In part, this is due to the NCA which functions from the Bangalore stadium complex. Ignorant critics feel the NCA is a mere show piece, a monumental white elephant caught up in theory and impractical ideas. But impartial observers swear it is the best thing to happen, the institution is slowly changing the culture of Indian cricket. For decades we were trapped in traditional methods, unaware and ignorant about what others were doing. Now the NCA is our big chance to catch up and absorb modern knowledge.

This is happening, slowly but steadily. A 17-year-old who undergoes a month long camp at the NCA is a changed, transformed cricketer. He goes back an improved player and understands what it takes to make it to the top. He knows that in contemporary cricket, fitness is paramount, athleticism and training are crucial. And success depends on attitude and application.

Thanks to the NCA the old laid-back style is being discarded by players and a tougher, professional attitude adapted.

John Wright says "he is looking for players who are committed and focussed, athletes, who will field well and run like crazy between the wickets". The NCA is in the business of producing these new, improved, tougher khiladis.

To do this, latest equipment is used, videos are made and discussed, and there are endless lectures on physical training and fitness. The facilities are excellent, no expense is spared to procure the best which prompts Madan Lal to say, guardedly, that "the NCA is a huge step in the right direction. One thing is sure," he admits, "I have learnt a lot of new things here."

But, as happens so often, there is a problem when junior cricketers go back from the NCA to their respective states. The state coaches are still steeped in their old methods, smug, complacent and unwilling to change.

As such disconnect is ruinous the NCA is reaching out to coaches through the level 1 and 2 courses in an attempt to bring them up to speed.

Sceptics however want other reforms to ensure that the NCA is fully productive. They say theory lectures sail over the heads of trainees; much of what is spoken sounds good but is unconnected to actual match conditions. The emphasis, in their opinion, should be on practicality. Kids should be taught how to find their way on a cricket ground, the rest is peripheral.

Reactions to the NCA are largely fashioned by the outlook of the person making the assessment. Venkatesh Prasad, the medium pacer with the divine action, thinks "this is a terrific finishing school" but adds that "no school can gift common sense and basic understanding to a cricketer — you either know when to back up, what start to take from mid wicket or you don't". Srinath is a great supporter of the new fitness culture, he feels "it is impossible to perform without these inputs".

The significance of what modern science can do, and what the NCA is trying to achieve, was highlighted by the Australian academy team participating in the KSCA tournament.

The team was accompanied by a support staff which consisted of a manager/coach/physio/trainer/psychologist and an exercise physiologist, the last to monitor the physical parameters of players during play. Each player wore two gadgets, one round the chest which measured heart beat, etc., the other at the back of the neck to record humidity, loss of fluid and such things. Based on this each player was separately treated — during breaks — and kept in peak physical shape.

It is easy to scoff at this sophistication (some people still talk of functional fitness, but this shows the direction in which cricket is moving. If India has to keep pace, a vibrant NCA is a must, and the impulse for cricket's cultural change has to emanate from Bangalore.