Since April 2, Sanjay Bharadwaj’s mobile hasn’t stopped ringing. Bharadwaj coaches Gautam Gambhir, the Delhi batsman who starred in the World Cup final that India won. So, parents from places as far as Shillong and Chhattisgarh are converging at his West Delhi academy with one request: Turn their ward into the next Gambhir or Tendulkar.
“I don’t have a magic wand,” he tells Rajiv Handa, an interior designer, who has landed at the academy, wife and son in tow, requesting Bharadwaj to enroll his 10-year-old. “A coach can only improve the skills of already talented students. Sorry, there are no slots open in the academy at present,” he tells the dejected Handas.
For the last two weeks, Bharadwaj claims to have turned down more than 500 such requests. The rush for seats at the Bharat Nagar cricket centre, funded by the Delhi government, can be attributed to two reasons, he says. “Before the World Cup, at the IPL auction Gautam (Gambhir) attracted the largest bid ($2.4 million). After the triumph at Wankhede, youngsters are rooting for him even more.”
“Gauti rocks,” declares Varun Monga, a class 7 student of Mata Jai Kaur Public School. “Like him, I bat left handed. And like him, I bat at number three. We are the champions and he’s my role model,” says the son of a builder.
The scenes are similarly euphoric at cricket’s well-known nurseries across the nation. In Shivaji Park, Mumbai, that gave India cricketers such as Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Vijay Manjrekar and Ajit Wadekar, business is booming for coaches. In Ranchi, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s hometown, the captain has become an idol for the thousands bedazzled with the billions he has made in endorsements.
In Kolkata, admissions to coaching schools have shot up. “In the past two weeks, we saw 40 admissions. Amazingly, more than 20 kids aged between six and 10 years are named after Sachin Tendulkar,” says Sambaran Banerjee, coach at the Mainland Sambaran Cricket Academy.
In central Mumbai, where Tendulkar took his first lessons from Ramakant Achrekar, sweaty children of all ages dressed in muddied white, scramble about during a coaching session. “After the World Cup victory, parents are encouraging their children to play cricket,” says Padmakar Shivalkar, coach at Shivaji Park Gymkhana.
“Normally I train about 70 children in summer,” adds independent coach Sachin Sawant. “Since the win, the number has nearly doubled and I now have about 130 children in my summer camp.”
Beyond the euphoria, the World Cup 2010 victory has also kindled the hopes of a new generation of cricketers. At Delhi’s Bharat Nagar, 17-year-old Mohammed Azharuddin, from Alwar in Rajasthan, says the win has inspired him to stay back in the Capital and make a living playing cricket. “Till the time I joined the academy, I slept in mosques and wasn’t confident of my future. Now that we are world champions, I will fight the odds and play for the country,” says the teenager who bowls at 130 kph and was part of Delhi’s Under-19 probables list.
Kashish Raj Kaushik, a class seven student of Ranchi’s Oxford Public School, wants to emulate Tendulkar and says that he spends hours at home doing shadow practice Sachin-style and watching his videos.
The zeal isn’t limited to children alone — parents are going the extra yard as well. “I’ve downloaded videos of Sachin playing. I make sure my son watches them,” says Manjot Singh Dhillon, whose son goes to Kolkata’s Eden Garden Cricket Club.
With Dhoni becoming the highest paid sportsperson in the country, earning more than Rs 80 crore in endorsements till 2010, cricket is perceived in Ranchi as a ticket to the gravy train.
“Look at Mahi’s income — he is not even a graduate. It is more lucrative than a government job,” says Biswaranjan Kumar, who works at a nursing home, as he watches his son practice at Ranchi’s Hehal Cricket Academy.
In a country where cricket overshadows all other sports, the race to push their children to a coaching centre can foster mediocrity and lead to frustration. “We had to turn down several candidates as they were too small to even pad up and catch balls properly,” said Soumitro Patnaik, a coach at Ranchi’s Hehal Cricket Academy.
On the field, though, for the moment, everyone fancies himself as a Dhoni-in-the-making.“More children in our building have started playing cricket. We all feel motivated by the World Cup victory,” says Siddharth Manjrekar, 11, son of former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar and a regular at Shivaji Park.
“The Indian team won the cup for Sachin and now all of us want to play well and get selected,” says Anuj A, 11, leaping dramatically to catch the ball at Shivaji Park. “I want to grow up and play for the Ranji team, then the IPL and finally the Indian team to win our next World Cup.”
(With inputs from Prachi Pinglay in Mumbai, Animesh Bisoee in Ranchi and Swati Tewari in Kolkata)