In 2010, the Indian Gramin Cricket League (IGCL) was restricted to 12 teams from villages in the western Uttar Pradesh district of Etawah as there were a few takers for tennis ball cricket.
It was a slow start but within a few years, the event spread to other parts of the state and to West Bengal and Haryana. Madhya Pradesh and Odisha are next on IGCL founder chairman Dr Anurag Singh Bhadoria’s radar.
“The event has been conceptualised to motivate the rural youth and channelize their energy into positive things,’ Bhadoria told Hindustan Times. “We are getting good players and intend to eventually pick up good boys and bring them to city for proper training.”
The tournament’s motto though is ‘gaon ki nazar aasman par…balley ki dum par (Let villages aim for the sky…and the bat focus on strength).’ Most of the players don’t have cricket gear and technique,” he said. But they make up for it with enthusiasm and some actually play very well, he said.
IGCL tournaments have so far been conducted in over 50 places spread over three states and each tournament got to see the participation of 50-60 teams. The event is giving players recognition and some income, said Bhadoria.
His words rang true when the competition travelled to Sefai in Etawah this year. Manoj Yadav, who scored a 35-ball century, earned between Rs 15 and 20 lakh from fans and sponsors. For hitting a six, one gets Rs 1,000 and it remains the most attractive prize for participants. Each player of the champion team also gets a branded cycle and cash awards.
Teams also get coloured jerseys, trousers and shoes and the opening and closing ceremonies have film actors adding more than a dash of colour.
Bhadoria, who is also the advisor on sport to the state government, said chief minister Akhilesh Yadav supports the concept but denied that the event has any political overtone. “It’s not true that IGCL is trying to woo young voters of the rural areas for the ruling Samajwadi Party,” said Bhadoria. “When I started in 2010, it was Mayawati’s government (that was in power).”
Yadav incorporated rural cricket in the eponymous Saifai Mahotsav (an annual event in the village in Etawah). That helped the boys play tennis-ball cricket in an international stadium in Saifai, said Bhadoria. There were 24 teams from 15 districts of Uttar Pradesh and two from West Bengal, he said.
In West Bengal, matches were conducted in the rural belt of the Birbhum district, said Bhadoria. “The response was amazing. Thousands of spectators turned-up to watch the matches and over 160 teams took part.”