Majority from minority

Indian cricket has always had a funnel shape with the metros on top, but now it has changed.

Everyone connected with Indian cricket is so much engrossed in discussing the exclusion of Sourav Ganguly that they seem to have overlooked the fact that 10 out of 15 players in the Indian team are from non-cricketing centres. It's a big cricket revolution in India.

For decades, Indian cricket had players from Mumbai, Delhi, Karnataka, Hyderabad and Tamil Nadu. Rarely did we see a district player in the team. Indian cricket has always had a funnel shape with the metros on top, but now it has changed to a pyramid with the base, comprised of districts, widening. It's the National Cricket Academy that should be given the credit for this change.

The founding of the National Cricket Academy was Rajsingh Dungarpur's dream. He wanted the talent from the districts to be scientifically guided at the academy. It started in 2000 and by 2005 Indian cricket began to produce talent in large numbers. Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Kaif, Pathan, R. P. Singh, Raina, Chawla, V. R. V. Singh, Dhoni and Sreesanth are all from places where there is neither a cricket culture nor any adequate cricket facility to train.

Having travelled lakhs of kilometres in the districts of India, I observed that the boys there hardly ever complained about the facilities. Most of the places had matting, torn nets, bumpy run up for fast bowlers, no proper equipment and no tournament structure. The mantra of the untrained district coaches, whose number has mushroomed, is `play the way you know best'.

Such a system has an advantage. `Had Dhoni been in the hands of a Level II or III coach, would he have played the way he is playing?' is a comment I often hear. It's not the coaching course certificate that matters, but the experience of a coach. Still, one has to accept the fact that the metros are not producing decent cricketers because of overuse of technique. A boy in a big city suffers, as he has to go through half a dozen coaches who keep changing his style.

There was this famous incident when Gavaskar invited former West Indies opening batsman Conrad Hunte for his wedding. As Hunte entered the marriage hall, many introduced themselves as Gavaskar's coaches. Hunte, in his typical forthright West Indian style, remarked with sarcasm and humour, "Oh, no wonder Sunny is a great player. He is coached by a dozen coaches." One of the Mumbai selectors made a valid point when he said that parents-coaches-selectors are killing talent in big cities.

There was a hue and cry recently when Sehwag said he hadn't heard of Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy. It was an innocent expression of a district boy who had no way of knowing the history of Indian cricket. For that matter, even boys in metros are ignorant in this regard. The NCA has been ensuring that players are acquainted with history.

At the NCA, the difference between the boys from the districts and the big cities is that the former enjoy every minute of it. Not having seen such facilities, they sometimes spend extra time in the gymnasium. I have observed the dedication with which these boys, who are now in the Indian team, worked at the NCA.

The BCCI had announced that there would be five zonal cricket academies. But now that the associations are to be given Rs.10 crores each every year, shouldn't they be establishing independent cricket academies? It has been proved that this country has huge cricketing talent in the districts. It needs to be tapped and nurtured. The process has to begin quickly.

The future of Indian cricket lies in the hands of the district boys. They are more committed, focussed and extremely hardworking when compared to their counterparts in the big cities. Enhancing the match fees will not improve the standard of players. Unless a sense of competition is created, increased pay may not be beneficial to the growth of Indian cricket.

Ten small town players in the Indian team is enough indication of the direction we are taking and this despite lack of guidance and infrastructure. We need to concentrate on this area rather than invest time and money in getting players from big cities.