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Bobbing between hope and despair

cricket Updated: Sep 30, 2008 23:28 IST
K R Guruprasad
K R Guruprasad
Hindustan Times
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The Vidarbha Cricket Association's (VCA) finest moment came when the Ranji team reached the semifinals of the Vijay Hazare one-day tournament earlier this year. Coach Usman Ghani and captain Pritam Gandhe say the feat has given them confidence.

The under-17 team also finished runner-up in the Vijay Merchant Trophy.

VCA's media manager, Rajan Nair, attributes the recent success to tapping talent at the grass root level.

"As a result, we have Shreekant Wagh, a left arm fast bowler, who comes from Buldanha. Over the last few years, we have laid stress on junior cricket. We have been conducting regular camps and tournaments right from the under-15 level and this has thrown up talent," he says pointing towards Viraj Kadbe, 18, who has made it to the Chennai IPL team, and promising names like Faiz Fazal and Alind Naidu.

"It's a matter of time before we have an international player," he says.

But in Ranji Trophy, the team is still languishing in the Plate Division. "It is a combination of reasons that explain why Vidarbha is still in the Plate Division," says Nair.

"Till the early 90s we hardly got five domestic matches a year. We also did not have a cricketer of national prominence.

"What makes matters worse is the players don't get too many competitive matches in between the domestic seasons.

"We don't have a corporate culture like in Mumbai nor did we have vibrant school cricket till recently," says Nair.

But all that is changing, he adds.

Money matters

"Money we earn from hosting matches and the stipulated amount from the BCCI is spent on cricket," says Nair.

"We will have a new stadium. We have coaching camps and training facilities for various age groups."

The VCA also supports women's cricket and has regular coaching camps run by experts.

Coping with poverty

While cash inflow into associations may have increased considerably, Vidarbha is different. While it is rich in minerals like coal and manganese, industrialization has not kept pace.

The players are mostly from underprivileged sections and that reflects in the cricket.

"Hardly three or four from the junior age-groups graduate to the senior level," says an official.

By the time a player turns 18, there is pressure on him to choose between cricket and education and most of them opt for the latter.

"Education and employment are priorities among the youth here. Talent is not as abundant as elsewhere, says coach Ghani.

Cricketers say performance at the junior level goes unrewarded.

"We get big scores at the junior level but we are not among the seniors in the next season," says a player.

"It is not that we don't reward good performance. What we want is consistency. A player cannot expect to be playing in the senior team after just one century," says Gandhe.

No jobs for players

Banks and other corporates no longer employ cricketers. While cricketers in Mumbai and Chennai might disagree, this is true about Vidarbha.

Is it a deterrent for budding players?

"Not quite," says Ghani. "Youngsters are now aware that there is lot of money is domestic cricket as well."

Nair points to Faiz Fazala. "He plays for many age groups and also in the senior team. He drives around town in a luxury car. How many 20-year-olds can claim to have bought a car worth Rs eight lakh?"

He says the association cannot do much if corporates and banks are not keen on employing cricketers.

"We give the youngsters a platform to showcase their talent and those who are consistent will lead a good life. "If a cricketer plays domestic cricket consistently for 10 years, he will earn enough money to not bother about getting a job," says Nair.