Cricket in Vidarbha now stands poised for greater things and that is an overwhelming sentiment .
The central region of the country and the eastern-most part of Maharashtra has long grappled with suicides of young debt-ridden cotton growing farmers and the painful malnutrition cases amongst children.
In such a region, cricket is not a likely choice. And tales of success from other nondescript parts of the country have not been as inspirational here since one of their own has not yet made the mark.
There’s no clear answer as to why not a single player from the region has played for India so far though the Vidharbha Cricket Association (VCA) celebrates its 75th anniversary next year.
While the wait for its first international cricketer continues, Vidarbha has one of them jumping into national reckoning in the game albeit as an administrator.
President of the VCA, Shashank Manohar’s takeover as president of the BCCI on Saturday spells hope that it will herald a new era for cricket in this region. This will only be an impetus, they say, to the process, which gained momentum from the 1990s when Manohar started turning the association's fortunes around.
Exercising extreme caution
Interest in this region's cricket has increased ever since Manohar was announced as BCCI president-elect last year. But prior to the big day, VCA officials were tight-lipped.
“There were times when I got 120 missed calls on my phone,” said Rajan Nair, media manager of the VCA. Days before Manohar took over the reins of arguably the most powerful body, there were hardly any visible signs of the enormity of the occasion — no OB vans circling the VCA ground, no mike-toting TV journalists waiting for a quick byte and no familiar clicking of cameras.
Manohar said he would not talk to the media before he became president. Following their boss, VCA officials were not saying anything. “Please understand we don’t want to say anything at this moment,” Wijay Chitale, VCA secretary, said. “Talk to our media manager.”
Having grown up in the region and even played Ranji Trophy for Vidarbha before he worked as a journalist, Nair knows his stuff about the VCA. “Why should any official talk to the media now?” he asked. “What am I here for?”
An official said nobody wanted to say anything that could start a controversy. “Nobody wants to burn their fingers.”
Why board president from Vidarbha?
“When (M.S.) Dhoni can come from Jharkhand and become a successful India captain, why can't we have a board president from Nagpur,” counters Nair.
This in a way reflects the fact that not only are talented cricketers emerging from non-metro cities, administrators from such areas are also getting their due, says Nair.
“We may not have achieved much in cricket but Manohar has turned around the fortunes of the VCA and he has shown exceptional administrative abilities.” Still the question doing rounds is how much has Vidarbha achieved for the 50-year-old advocate to get to the top of Indian cricket.
VCA and Manohar
Till the 1987 Reliance World Cup, Nagpur was not a major venue though matches were being played. But the tournament put Nagpur on the national radar and the VCA started growing.
Nair says during the mid-90s there was a financial boom in Indian cricket due to manifold increase in money from television rights and the VCA too benefitted from it.
“At that time Manohar was the vice-president and he played a pivotal role in overall development of the association.”
Manohar took over as president of theVCA in 1997 and was at the helm till 1999 after which he took a break and returned to head the association in 2001 till date.
Nair says Manohar understands the game, having played for various clubs and the Vidarbha under-22 side.
“He understood early on that if cricket in this region is to flourish, junior cricket needs to be encouraged and thus we have regular camps and we have been encouraging talent from other districts by conducting inter-district tournaments," he says.