Tonk town in Rajasthan has a population of about one lakh. It has just one cricket ground, Shahadat Pavilion, which has three practice turf pitches and a pair of cement strips. This is where left-arm pacer Khaleel Ahmed honed his in-swingers. His fellow new-ball bowler, Shubham Mavi has put Uttar Pradesh town, Bulandshahr, on the cricket map.
Both are important members of India’s junior team taking part in the U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh. The composition of the squad is a reflection of how Indian cricket is shifting its trajectory from small towns to minor, district towns in the same fashion cricketers from smaller towns broke the monopoly of big cities some years ago.
“Khaleel has been practicing here since he was ten. He is an aggressive cricketer who is passionate about the game. This is the only reason he has reached this level with the limited facilities here. Every player, including Khaleel, has to contribute their labour to maintain the ground and pitches,” says Imtiaz Ali Khan, Khaleel’s coach at the Shahadat Pavilion.
Nagaur, another small Rajasthan town with a population of around a lakh, is yet to see modernisation in cricket. A matting pitch is what the aspiring players get to play on at the multi-purpose government stadium. But local lad, Mahipal Lomror, a leg spinner and middle-order batsman, has risen in cricket because of his talent.
Both Khaleel and Mahipal are from modest backgrounds. Khaleel’s father is a compounder in a government hospital while Mahipal’s father is a lower division clerk in a government department.
“Under Mahipal’s captaincy, we won U-16 to U-19 inter-district championship. I can say he is someone who will play at the top level. Confidence is his strength,” says RS Nandu, secretary of the Nagaur Cricket Association.
There are other members of the India team from a similar background.
Wicketkeeper Rishab Pant is from Haridwar, spinner Anmolpreet Singh is from Patiala and medium-pacer, Amandeep Khare, hails from Durg, Chhattisgarh. Interestingly, Chhattisgarh is allowed to play all age-group tournaments organised by the BCCI but has not got Ranji status yet.