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Wealth, yes; but health?

For various reasons, the development of a solid grassroots structure in Indian cricket is improbably slow, writes G Krishnan.
Hindustan Times | By G Krishnan, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JUL 20, 2007 01:26 AM IST

When the National Cricket Academy (NCA) was set up in Bangalore in 2000, it was regarded as a finishing school for young players looking at a first-class career. Modelled on the Australian Cricket Academy (now called the Commonwealth Bank Centre of Excellence and located in Brisbane), it had the legendary Aussie stumper Rodney Marsh as a consultant, former Test batsman Hanumant Singh as Director, and Vasu Paranjpe and Roger Binny as coaches.

Seven years on, they are all gone from the NCA, and there are serious doubts over whether the academy has really gone on to serve its purpose.

The NCA has had some of the biggest names in Indian cricket associated with it but that hasn’t helped. But Sunil Gavaskar, the chairman of the NCA Committee, did not have quality time for it and was replaced by Kapil Dev when his term ended at the Board’s 2006 AGM. Kapil now seems to have more time for the proposed Indian Cricket League rather than the honorary job at the NCA.

The BCCI had formed a Cricket Development Committee in its 2005 AGM with several former stars, but it was disbanded within a year as nothing came of it.

The facilities provided by the NCA are good, even used for Indian camps on a regular basis. “But they could have been better,” said Balwinder Singh Sandhu, who was the NCA head coach in 2002-03 and was relegated to just another coach the subsequent year. He believes a lack of professionalism comes in the way of development.

“In our system, people close to power, rather than meritorious ones, are given posts,” said another coach closely involved with the NCA till recently.

It is somewhat shocking that coaches doing Level I/II/III courses are passed as the candidate comes from a powerful association or is associated with someone close to the BCCI. Raj Singh Dungarpur, the founder chairman of the NCA, said the academy “has fallen apart”.

Given these factors, the development of the game has suffered. Often, comparisons are being made with stronger countries when things go awfully wrong with the national team.

But what is forgotten when such comparisons are made is the strong base of the grassroots structure, backed by a professional board, in those countries.

Still, the BCCI has begun to take the game to the interiors, and the number of cricketers who come from the rural centres into mainstream cricket are growing. But there are still problems galore.

An age-old problem

One serious issue that has maligned the development of junior cricket is the menace of overage players. BCCI Chief Administrative Officer, Prof Ratnakar Shetty, while admitting the issue, also told the Hindustan Times that the problem was slowly coming under control.

“Some years ago, overage was a serious issue. The BCCI has come down heavily in 2004 on making radiological tests for junior players compulsory. Those who play in a Board tournament for the first time will be tested and that registered date of birth cannot be changed.

“But I’m not saying this problem has been wiped out completely. There are some states where players come from villages and face problems of obtaining proper birth certificates.”

He said the Board was also working on developing cricket at the grassroots: “The structure is very much there. Development of grassroots cricket may vary from state to state. There are some stringent guidelines for all associations to follow.

“They have been given a two-year deadline to have a stadium of their own, to adopt 15-20 schools in their jurisdiction. Smaller associations have some problems and may not be able to concentrate on schools cricket. Things will be proper in the coming years.”

Of strange selections

Another problem that hinders the development of the game is biased selections, especially in the junior circuits.

There have been reports of how selectors have been bribed to include their wards in state teams, how they have succumbed to other influences, you name it, they’ve asked for it.

It is commonly known that parents and relatives trying to influence selectors throng the selection trials, and politicians and highly affluent personalities make phone calls to include their wards in the state team.

Shetty agreed. “There has been a debate on the selection of a player or two, and the BCCI is seriously looking at doing away with these practices. From next year, the zonal system of selection will be abolished and the best selectors will be picked in the committee.”

A limit to playing police

Money is not a problem with the BCCI, which is the richest body in the cricketing world. It has disbursed Rs 8 crore (at least double from the previous years) to each association from TV subsidies for the development of the game in their state/association.

But is the money being used in the right manner? Said Shetty: “We have to rely on the audited accounts of the associations. You cannot police them beyond a point. We can only hope every association is making use of the disbursements in the right manner.”

Most associations have started expanding their support staff by engaging a trainer, a physio, and a computer analyst among other specialists but there is a long way to go yet. For instance, most associations also do not have indoor facilities.

And then, as a whole, despite being the world’s IT hub and a country that prides itself on its scientific products, Indian cricket still lacks a research centre. On any front.

Pitch-black vision

Another thing that has constantly bugged Indian cricket is the pitches issue. ‘Tigers at home, lambs abroad’ is an often-repeated cliché with the Indian teams. When it comes to playing on lively pitches, they surrender meekly.

The Pitches and Grounds Committee of the BCCI has more or less slept over this issue till recently, with nothing concrete emerging from the time this committee was formed in the late 1990s with Kapil as its chairman.

Now though, the Board has directed each of its affiliated associations to prepare lively pitches for domestic tournaments.

“We are putting pressure on the associations to take steps to constructively use the resources for the betterment of the game,” BCCI treasurer N Srinivasan said after the Working Committee in Mumbai on April 7 this year. And important matches like the Ranji Trophy semifinals and final, Duleep Trophy, Deodhar Trophy and Irani Cup will be played on the best of pitches. At least that is the stated intent.

Yet, it would also make more sense if the junior competitions were held on sporting pitches like the one in Mohali, to help young players get accustomed to such pitches abroad.

Tech savvy but post the counselling

What about a biomechanics centre? “You need to coach the coaches before going into all these details,” said Sandhu.

One of cricket’s leading bio-mechanic experts the former England fast bowler Frank Tyson, has made regular visits to the NCA but the problems of age seem to have now caught up with him.

“We need counsellors more than sports psychologists,” Sandhu reiterates his point. “Indians think differently from Aussies. Most players at the first class level don't speak good English. People should speak a common cricket language.”

Finally, the BCCI is at least planning a stronger India A schedule. Whether they will actually go through with the planned games against stronger opposition once they are done with tours like Zimbabwe and Kenya we’ll have to wait and see but at least there is an intent.

However, history has taught us to say that with the Board, it’s better to wait and see.

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