In more ways than one, Raipur epitomises a typical old Indian city. The roads are encroached by stalls, congested with rickshaws, motorcycles, scooters and the odd buffalo. Windows of most buildings almost open into the balcony of the next, the lanes can be extremely narrow and one can easily get stuck inside a market crossroad for a good hour once a truck parks in the middle of it for unloading.
It’s a city thriving with life, unlike Chhattisgarh’s new capital Naya Raipur that is located around 20 kilometres south-east of Raipur.
If not for the police cars patrolling the wide, manicured streets or the odd sedan whistling by, Naya Raipur can be easily mistaken for a ghost town. The massive buildings are unlit, some roads yet to be paved while the ones that have been completed lay unused for hours.
One such road is the Naya Raipur Marg --- a long-drive paradise --- that goes through acres of barren land before going around the Sendh Lake to suddenly arrive at the behemoth called Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh stadium.
One of the biggest and grandest stadiums in India, this arena could only host IPL, Champions League and some zonal and age-group matches till 2015. Now with Chhattisgarh finally granted full membership by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) last week, top-flight cricket will arrive in the form of the Ranji Trophy.
A patient wait
Chhattisgarh became a new state in 2000 and quickly became a rich one at that thanks to its industrial and mining strength.
But representation in cricket didn’t come instantly. It has been a patient wait for the Chhattisgarh State Cricket Sangh (CSCS), said secretary Rajesh Dave when HT contacted him. “We were given associate status in 2008 after which there is a five-year waiting period during which the BCCI checks our progress to determine if a state association deserves full membership. We were always confident of getting that. Ideally it should have come in 2013 but I guess it took time because the BCCI was dealing with other issues too,” Dave told HT from Raipur.
A big reason behind their rapid promotion has been Raipur’s ability to host big-league matches of IPL and Champions League. “We were awarded the best pitch and ground in the 2013 IPL. Plus the response in the Champions League was amazing. We have also hosted zonal women’s matches but definitely the IPL was a huge factor,” said Dave.
The promotion essentially means two things --- BCCI adds another member from the central zone and Ranji Trophy goes from a 27-team affair to 28, with 10 teams set to play in Group C. Given the next Ranji Trophy begins in another eight months, Dave isn’t overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done to get a team in place.
“We have the players. Currently almost 7-8 players from our state are playing outside so they can easily return and play for us now. Our under-19 team has done really well so the youngsters too are ready. We might hire a coach from outside state but we still have time to decide on that,” said Dave. He said it’s important to get back players from other states since they also bring back a huge experience of playing in top flight cricket.
Right now, Ashutosh Singh, Harpreet Singh, Jalaj and Jatin Saxena play for Madhya Pradesh, Abhimanyu Chauhan and Sahil Gupta for Baroda and Bhima Rao for Jharkhand. All, according to Dave, can play for Chhattisgarh provided they get No Objection Certificate (NOC) from their respective states. “That shouldn’t be a problem. Who wouldn’t want to play for their own state?,” asked Dave. “We also have Amandeep Khare who has recently represented India U-19 so we are pretty well-placed in terms of players,” said Dave.
“Most encouraging has been the results at the junior level. Our U-23 team accumulated the highest points in 2014. We have also defeated teams like Vidarbha and Rajasthan at various levels,” said Dave.
Infrastructure a concern
What concerns Dave more is the amount of work needed at the infrastructure level. As an associate, CSCS used to receive Rs 75 lakh. Now it might be upwards of Rs 20 crore from the BCCI’s coffers by virtue of being a full member. If that’s the expected hike, Dave is hoping to use all of it to improve facilities.
Despite the financial crunch, CSCS arranges an inter-district league in four age categories in which 19 teams participate annually. Players for different age-level teams are selected only after this league finishes. They also maintain a full coterie of scorers, umpires and coaches, all of whom have undergone the highest possible training from the BCCI.
Apart from Raipur, there are cricket grounds in places like Durg, Bhilai, Bilaspur, Rajnandgaon, Korba and Ambikapur as well. “Each of these district association venues can host a first-class game but what we have is very basic. We have plans to open an academy in Raipur and also to improve existing facilities. But we needed money. Now with that roadblock removed, we can’t wait to get the show on the road,” said Dave.