Mark Ingty still had a couple of years of cricket left in him when he suddenly found himself without a first-class team. The pace bowler from Shillong had been representing Assam, but in 2008 he became just another player from the Northeast. His state, Meghalaya, had been made an affiliate member of the cricket Board, separate from Assam.
Talent from the Northeast is limited, but those nursing the dream of playing at first-class level have no opportunities; it’s a region of no hope. The weather, terrain and security situation are all hostile to the game’s development. Even with BCCI’s resources, it has been too much of a challenge to promote the game in the region.
The argument may take a lot of convincing, but the Supreme Court sees merit in making them equal stakeholders in Indian cricket. By the looks of it, the decision will alter the dynamics in BCCI. But the concern is whether more power will actually accelerate development.
As the region receives heavy rainfall, cricket is restricted to around four months in many parts. There is a lack of basic infrastructure like grounds. More importantly, other sports are more popular. For youngsters seeking a career in sports, football and Olympic disciplines are better options.
Ingty admits football is bigger in Meghalaya. “There are two I-League teams and then there is the NorthEast United club in the Indian Super League,” says Ingty, who has played Duleep Trophy.
Still, he feels cricket is waiting to explode in his hometown. “If we get support from the BCCI, you can’t beat cricket. If you go to our ground (in Shillong), there will be 200 players at a time, all playing cricket.”
Currently, the Polo Ground is buzzing with activity. The National Cricket Academy coaches are conducting a camp for under-19 boys, selected after trials from all the NE states.
Stanley Saldhana, who led the first serious attempt by the BCCI to develop the game in the region, says it will be a herculean task.
“Northeast states, barring Meghalaya, do not have a cricket-conducive atmosphere. The hill states have lot of geographical difficulties in building infrastructure. Some of the states have serious insurgency issues,” he says. The former Maharashtra batsman’s first task on joining BCCI in 2008 was to develop cricket in Meghalaya, Manipur, Arunachal, Sikkim and Nagaland.
“Participation of players is difficult due to financial issues, academics and a lack of job opportunities.”
Saldhana also lists a lack of qualified coaches, umpires and groundsmen. During his tenure, the BCCI started a tournament for the affiliate and associate members, but it was discontinued in 2012.
“Maybe the BCCI members were busy with other things, but they stopped all cricketing activity here in 2012. This is the first NCA camp since then,” says Naba Bhattacharjee, secretary of the Meghalaya Cricket Association.
Ingty, now a coach, is assisting the U-19 camp. He wants BCCI support for better infrastructure. “There’s a lot of talent and potential but we can only play for four months because of the rains. So, we need an indoor facility. We need to have a senior team too.”
Holding a camp in Shillong and Dimapur is fine but there are areas that present security challenges. A Border Security Force officer, who served for four years in the Northeast, feels security will be a challenge. “There are some places where local buses and other means of transport can run only during the day. There is fear of kidnapping. They all move in a convoy, with armed vehicles bringing up the front, centre and rear.”
Feroze Ghayas, a former Delhi and Haryana pace bowler, has been around the region on work assignments with the ONGC and as a BCCI match referee. He says he never faced safety concerns. “The locals treat the sportspersons very well. I have been to Agartala on cricket assignments and have also visited Manipur. I never experienced any problem. Recently, I had an offer from Manipur to coach kids. I told them to build some basic infrastructure before I consider.”
The Northeast associations are upset over claims that there is no cricketing activity in their zones and hence they don’t deserve full member status. “Associations like Baroda can fight for survival but they shouldn’t be giving false information about us,” says Bhattacharjee.
He allays fears that giving voting rights will lead to domination by the Northeastern bloc. “It is wrong to assume we will vote as per our zone; we will vote for whoever helps to develop the sport in our region,” says Bhattacharjee, co-convenor of the New Area Development Project, a recently formed body of the Northeast State Cricket Associations.
Nagaland CA president and former chief minister, Neiphiu Rio, presents a strong argument. “Cricket binds the country, it is like a religion. It integrates the country and we should be made part of it,” says Rio, who has built a full-fledged cricket stadium in Dimapur, where the NCA is holding an under-16 camp.
Saldhana is not so sure. “Dictating terms and taking sides will become an issue. The administrators in these states don’t see the big picture. Their involvement is nothing but power politics.
“Some of them deserve to be associate or affiliate members. I sound harsh, but it’s a reality. Most of them may be looking at the big money given to full members,” says Saldhana, who served in the BCCI till 2010.
The solution, Saldhana says, is to not disburse funds unilaterally to all associations and to have a players’ registration process age-wise. “More importantly, identify talented cricketers from lower age-groups and provide free cricket equipment. Support cricketers with a substantial increase in match fees. It should be minimum R10,000 to 15,000. Also, talented cricketers can be supported with scholarships. Then players will not have to spend on cricket equipment and families will encourage their kids to play cricket. This should be the biggest motivating factor in the Northeast states.”