THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: On most evenings, you can find Biju George giving cricketing lessons to aspiring cricketers at the Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) Cricket Coaching Centre based at the Medical College Ground here. For outsiders, it will be hard to believe that this is the man who took India within the touching distance of winning a cricket World Cup.
Biju was the fielding coach of the Indian women’s cricket team that participated in the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup, held from June 24 to July 23 in England. The team had put on a string of impressive performances to reach the final where they painfully lost to the hosts by just nine runs.
Though falling short of the ultimate prize, the team still managed to create tremendous buzz about the otherwise ignored sport -- with even Prime Minister Narendra Modi noting that ‘the 125 crore Indians carried their defeat in the final on their shoulders and this was, in fact, the team’s greatest victory’.
Biju was instrumental in the team’s fairytale run as India improved tremendously on the field under his coaching and was, in fact, the best fielding side in the whole tournament amassing 32 catches, seven run outs, and two stumpings -- a record which bettered that of the traditional women superpowers Australia and England.
Yet, while the players were showered with praise and cash awards by their state governments and cricket associations, Biju was miles aways from all the limelight and back to what he loves doing the most -- coaching young cricketers for free at one corner of the Medical College Ground which has produced the likes of Sanju V Samson, Sachin Baby, and Rohan Prem.
From planning training sessions for the country’s top cricketers, his priorities have now changed to finding enough balls to run the practice nets at the centre. “We need 12 balls at a time. We get a few from SAI, who have their limitations as cricket is not a priority discipline, and also from KCA,” said Biju. Biju joined the India set up that had only appointed former Baroda batsman Tushar Arothe as their new head coach and bonded very well with the team in a short period. “The players were very open with zero arrogance and great work ethics,” said Biju who has previously coached the India Under-19s, Kolkata Knight Riders, and Kuwait national team.
The coach and players developed a great relationship such that at the end of the tournament, Harmanpreet Kaur gifted him her bat while team’s captain Mithali Raj handed him her gloves -- the pieces of equipment which are now being proudly wielded by the youngsters at the coaching centre.
Reflecting on the day that India crashed within touching distance of the trophy, Biju says it is important to get over it and rebuild for success in the future. “We lost some quick wickets and did not have batsmen who could pierce the inner circle in the final overs. On any other day, we could have won it,” said the coach.
“Everybody was crying after the match -- even our liaison officer and two security officers who were English. Harmanpreet did not come out of her room even the day after the final. But we have to get over it and with the Women’s Twenty20 World Cup coming up, we have to rebuild the squad,” said Biju.
Biju felt there is a need to do more when it comes to women’s cricket in Kerala. “We need a women’s league to have players who can go onto play for India.
At least, we should allow a couple of women in B division district leagues so that we can improve the quality of our players,” he said.
He might not have won the World Cup, but Biju felt it was the best experience in his career. “It was a great journey during which I witnessed some of the best cricket in my life,” said Biju. Biju will now travel to Bengaluru where he will undergo a Level 3 re-certification programme at the National Cricket Academy from August 13 to 18.