The Vidarbha cricket nursery

The Nagpur Cricket Academy has seen a sharp rise in admissions following Vidarbha’s consecutive Ranji Trophy and Irani Trophy titles.

At 41, Madhav Bakre set everything else aside to invest in a sport he had wanted to play as a youngster.   -  Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya

Madhav Bakre first saw the transformative possibilities in cricket more than a decade ago. He took over the Ramdaspeth Youth Sporting Club from his brother-in-law, the former Vidarbha cricketer Satish Takle, and transformed it into the Nagpur Cricket Academy in 2007.

Today, following successive titles in the Ranji Trophy and the Irani Trophy, the number of kids training at the cricket school at South Ambazari Road in the Orange City has risen from about 150 to close to 250.

Building dreams

Bakre, 50, holds a master’s degree in business administration, and he worked in the computer sales, land development as well as construction fields before changing his focus to cricket. In his words: “...for the love for the game.” At 41, he set everything else aside to invest in a sport he had wanted to play as a youngster, and the rent from his properties pays his bills and helps him run his academy.

“There is a shop and a few properties. I am living off that. I don’t spend my money on useless things like alcohol or parties. All my money is for cricket,” he declares proudly.

The 20-odd turf wickets, six cement wickets and four bowling machines at the Nagpur Cricket Academy are perhaps testament to Bakre’s frugality. He even spent close to ₹40 lakh on black cotton soil so the pitches generate bounce.

The VCA pact

Bakre and his academy have a deal with the Vidarbha Cricket Association.

“The inter-academy tournaments (all age groups) help us identify future champions. The VCA gets reports on all players. Their selectors want us to track kids. During the trials, the VCA calls us; they tell us to send five-six kids who we think are good enough for the top level,” he says.

Seven coaches, including senior coach Chandrashekhar Atram, handle the different age groups between 7am and 8.30pm daily. “Not even for 10 minutes will you see the ground empty. At least 10-15 kids are playing all the time, even at the peak of summer in 47 degrees,” Bakre says.

Left-hand batsman Yash Rathod is one such find. He earned a Vidarbha internship owing to the academy’s chemistry with the association and its officials, and the 18-year-old batter travelled with the team in the 2017-18 Vijay Hazare Trophy.

Left-hand batsman Yash Rathod, 18, travelled with the team for the 2017-18 Vijay Hazare Trophy.   -  Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya

 

After learning under the Chandrakant Pandit regime, he earned entry into the India under-19 side that also featured Sachin Tendulkar’s son Arjun.

“Vidarbha’s two-time Ranji triumph has made a difference in our thinking as well. Now, we also want to emulate them and become champions in the under-19 tournaments we play. While travelling with the team, I learnt how Faiz Fazal sets his game. I idolise him. Chandu Sir gave me a few tips, too,” says Rathod.

“He used to push me into game situations even though I wasn’t playing. I would just train with them at nets. He taught me how to remain involved in the game for longer periods, how to crush the opponent by batting them out, among many other things. Now that I know the mindset and these little things, I can execute them to make my team win when I play. When I was playing under-19, I had solutions to every problem I faced,” he says.

Everyone’s welcome

Bakre hates saying no to kids, but he never imagined the admissions could take a toll on his peace of mind.

“We never wanted to crowd the place, so that we could attend to every kid. Our focus was to put our kids at the highest level. Even if you are playing gully cricket, performance is necessary. You can’t just be selected and be happy in Ranji or anywhere else, I tell them to come and talk to me once they have hit a century,” he explains, adding: “Even after saying no, requests come in through recommendations. Earlier, we had about 150 people. Now it is close to 250.” Come what may, Bakre is always present at the ground every morning in whites. He doesn’t play any more, but sets targets for the kids.

“Sir has told me to hit 1,200 runs this year. I have reached 1,030 already,” chuckles Rathod. The facilities are used not only by the kids, but also by Vidarbha cricketers Akshay Wadkar, Akshay Karnewar, Suniket Bingewar and Aditya Sarwate, the star of the 2018-19 Ranji final.

“These boys (the Vidarbha players) give me a call if they want to practise. As I have seen them from their childhood, we share a very healthy equation. They play for Navniketan Club, which is affiliated to the NCA,” says Bakre, sitting in one of the tents overlooking the pitch. The Ranji players keep visiting as guests to hand over prizes in club games, giving the kids chances to meet their inspirations. And when your heroes are just a call away — to help, teach and inspire — it’s no wonder more kids are picking up the game in Vidarbha.

List of coaches at the Nagpur Cricket Academy:

Chandrashekhar Atram, Ujval Joshi, P. Vivek, Narendra Mahajan, Mohammad Rafiq Sheikh, Ashutosh Pathak and Nitin Daftari.