The week gone saw two events aimed at promoting cricket at the grassroots level for men and women.
First was the opening ceremony of a Women’s Cricket League in Mumbai, with six teams participating from different parts of the country. The other was the cricket function held on March 7 that paid tribute to one of India’s favourite cricketers and captains, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. Tiger, as he was popularly called on the field, ruled the Indian cricket world in the 60’s and early 70’s.
The Rolls Royce of left arm spin bowling, Bishan Singh Bedi, whose cricket academy has completed 25 years, celebrated the occasion to recognise and respect their chief patron, Tiger Pataudi.
Cricketers and celebrities from the film world paid homage to the legend. Bishan Bedi and Anshuman Gaekwad relayed tales when they played under Tiger’s captaincy and Kapil Dev, Azharuddin, Naseeruddin Shah, Aamir Khan and a video message from Amitabh Bachchan brought forth the adulation and aura that he inspired in each one of them.
The contribution and significance of Bishan’s academy was highlighted when some of his accomplished students were called on to the dais. Yuvraj Singh was the most vocal of all. He recalled how Bishan admitted him into his academy even though he had no funds to attend the second training course.
Ashish Nehra, the flamboyant batsman Virendra Sehwag, Ajay Jadeja, Unmukt Chand, Aakash Chopra had been a part of the academy.
India’s former women’s captain and now the face of women cricketers Anjum Chopra was also put through the same drills and regime as the boys at the academy by Bishan. This itself speaks volumes of the contribution that he has made to the progress of Indian cricket.
I also heard about the effort put in by the Women’s Cricket Association and two of their forceful campaigners, their chief patrons Rani Sharma and Sunil Gavaskar’s sister Nutan. They have been fighting for recognition and pushing the case for funds, structure and facilities for women’s cricket without much success. The women players some of them who now play for India and others are likely to play are being supported finally by the BCCI, but very little has been done at the grassroots level. The tournament being played in Mumbai is being held solely at the goodwill of personal contacts and supported by a sports website, “Sportsnasha”. I was among the guests at the opening ceremony. I was first surrounded by the young girls for selfies but later was bombarded with questions on cricket matters. They wanted to know every bit of the game and it was then I realised their problems and predicaments. The game has now reached the masses and therefore, needs to be looked at differently for it to capture the popularity that it has now created in every corner of India.
The BCCI has skeleton coaching programs and at present most of them are held by their respective associations. Cricket has become a commercially viable business and therefore is also being exploited by crooks and quacks. All over India, there are cases of academies mushrooming but without any credentials. They are exploiting the situation to the hilt, as parents and the enthusiastic cricket loving youngsters have no understanding in how to pursue a cricketing career.
This is where the BCCI has to put a complete cricket structure in place. They need to establish centres in every town and city, through their enormous network, offering a well programmed and recognised set-up. Money has come into their coffers and this needs to be properly channelised. The game of cricket needs to be administratively transparent and inclusive for every aspiring youngster to have access to it. It is a huge task for the BCCI but the time has come for them to put safe and secure processes in place. They need to create academies, either on their own or through partnerships.
Indian cricket does not need any more stadiums, it requires establishments and facilities in order to give every youngster a chance to play the sport.
The onus of this was in the hand of schools earlier. But with education taking a very serious competitive turn and schools being rated on it, sports is not a priority for them anymore. The cost of land and the paucity of open spaces has further reduced the importance of having a school cricket field. The BCCI are the sole custodian of the game of cricket in India and it is their responsibility to frame the correct structure.
The banking and construction industry and many others have shown us how loopholes can be exploited and one does not want cricket to become the next victim. The quicker the systems are put in place the better it will be for the future of Indian cricket.
(The author is a former India cricketer)