As Nitin Badiyal lumbered in, twirled his arm, and unleashed a vicious off-spinner, a smile ran across the faces of Sandeep Patil and other selectors.
They had seen something familiar but perhaps had not expected it from a skinny boy coming from a nondescript village in Jammu and Kashmir’s Udhampur district.
“Actually, I learnt bowling spin by watching Muttiah Muralitharan on television, and therefore my action resembles his to some extent,” said Badiyal, while joining around 50 others selected from the first two phases (Dharamsala and Jammu) of the BCCI’s talent hunt for bowlers. The first of its kind initiative has opened up a window of opportunity for them, many of whom would have most certainly not gone beyond playing for their villages. Not because they can’t, but for want of opportunity, information, a platform, and in some cases, nepotism and bias in the local cricket bodies.
The net cast far and wide could have yielded more rewards had the BCCI put some thought and planning into it. Where the board blundered was in the timing of the trials in Dharamsala and Jammu.
It had been snowing continually at high altitudes in both the states for the last two months, making many high and interior places inaccessible. In fact, the highway linking Jammu with the Kashmir valley had to be shut down just before the trials in Jammu, probably leaving many aspirants stranded.
“More than 300 had registered for the trials in Kashmir, but only 50 could make it due to inclement weather and bad roads. We will write to the BCCI to conduct the trials in the summer in Kashmir,” said Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) secretary, Ahsan Mirza.
There was little cheer for even those who managed to show up as none from the batch made the cut. “For the last three months it’s snowing in Kashmir and we haven’t even touched the ball. We were completely out of practice,” lamented Imtiaz.
“You will find real quick bowlers in Kashmir, but you need to give us a proper opportunity,” the youngsters said in chorus. How good they are or can get is debatable but they were at a clear disadvantage compared to the other competitors. Ironically, when the BCCI decided to hold the trials at remote and non-traditional centres, the main idea must have been to give an opportunity to the youth from far-flung hilly places. And the initiative failed to tap into those very areas.
As pointed out by the BCCI joint secretary, Anurag Thakur, the selectors were looking for youngsters with raw pace, good build and stamina. And who would fit the bill better than youngsters coming from the rough terrain!
The other factor which the BCCI overlooked was impending exams. This surely must have kept away many from the trials. Unlike in the cities, sports is far from becoming a popular career option in these places and many would had no option but to pass up on the opportunity.
“Many of my friends couldn’t come as their board exams are startingin the first week of March. They wanted to come but their parents didn’t allow them,” said an aspirant from Chopal, a small town in upper Himachal Pradesh.
The board seemed to be confused whether to throw the trials open to all or restrict them to those belonging to the two states. In Dharamsala, the outsiders were told to leave before someone decided to let them try their luck.
While the BCCI secretary, Sanjay Jagdale, said the trials were open, Karsan Ghavri, overseeing the
trials with Sandeep Patil, thought otherwise. “It was supposed to be state-wise but when kids from other places landed at the venue it was decided to throw open to everyone.” So much for clarity!
Still, the selectors deserve praise for the way they conducted the trials. They ensured everyone who turned up got a fair chance to demonstrate his skill — whether he was serious or not, whether or not he had a proper kit and shoes, or had arrived late in the day.