Vacant farm lands across Delhi-NCR are being turned into well-equipped playgrounds for aspiring cricketers to hone their skills on. They make good money sense for stakeholders while breeding future stars. And, the trend is catching on fast, finds Mudita Girotra
Acres of vacant fields in the national capital, which once fetched bountiful farm yields, have turned into practice grounds for budding cricketers. The open spaces in villages across Delhi and its outskirts have now given way to lush green outfields and brown pitches for aspiring cricketers to hone their skills on.
According to farmers, who once tilled on these spaces, and other stakeholders in this initiative to turn vacant fields into playfields, the idea took root as space for cricket grounds was shrinking fast.
Also, the move is a potential money-spinner with bulk revenues to be derived, the stakeholders said.
Farmers in Baliabas, Ghata, Kadarpur, Basapur, Daultabad and several other villages in Haryana and those at Paprawat and Ghummanhera, among others in Delhi’s Najafgarh, have adopted this idea to spin a success story.
Manish Chaudhary, of west Delhi’s Najafgarh Tehsil, said his passion for the sport drove him to convert his agricultural land into a cricket ground. He said the ground is currently used for two purposes — to run an academy featuring around 30 budding cricketers and hosting corporate matches.
“We used to farm on this land earlier. I heard about farmers in Haryana, converting their fields into playfields and I decided to do the same. The idea was not to generate better income but pursue my passion,” the 28-year-old said.
An avid and promising cricketer in his school days, Manish nursed a dream to turn pro someday and earn laurels for his country. However, he had to give up on his dream on his doctor’s advice.
“I used to play cricket during my school and college days but because of a recurring back pain, I was advised by my doctor to not pursue it any further,” he said, adding, “I wish that my field serves as a breeding ground for aspiring cricketers who will, some day, fulfill my unrequited dream playing Ranji Trophy (the primary domestic cricket tournament in the country).”
Chaudhary said it took him around two to three months to develop the cricket pitch.
This ground in Gumanherra village is rented out at the cost of Rs 5,000 per day on weekends.
“Our rent is much lower on weekdays,” he said, adding, “We charge Rs 1,000 from Monday to Friday.”
The nearby village of Paprawat in the same Tehsil has at least three grounds that were used for farming earlier.
Dharamvir Beniwal, 50, who played Ranji trophy in the 90s, rents out one of them to run his academy, which goes by the name ‘Sunshine’.
Coaching, he said, is a “satisfactory” career option for cricketers after retirement from the sport.
“I work as a librarian, but manage to spend at least 3 to 4 hours on the field, training children who harbour the dream of turning professional cricketers someday,” Beniwal said.
“Renting the ground doesn’t cost much. Since this is a village, the rent is low. I pay around Rs 3,000 per month to train 15 children who pay Rs 1,500 per month,” Beniwal, who resides in the Gola Dairy, said.
Baliabas village in Gurugram has at least 50 cricket grounds carved out of farmland. Some of them are equipped with proper facilities, field lights, seating space and washrooms.
“You just have to come and play,” said Jitender Sharma, who is known to have started the trend of turning vacant open fields into cricket grounds in the village. Sharma took farmers’ land on lease to create a cricket ground. The ground is rented out for matches at a cost of Rs 12,000 per game.
In 1994, Sharma represented India at the international level as a baseball player, but he pursued cricket as a hobby. Two years later, he started booking grounds to organise matches for the corporate and bureaucrats as part of their PR activities.
In 2013, he started his sports complex in Baliabas named Abbi village.
“At that time, there used to be a long waiting time for booking grounds. Government stadiums were not that easy to book. We had to speak with the authorities two months prior to the match. That’s when I took this land on lease and developed the ground,” Sharma said.
This land belongs to the family of Rakesh Harsana, 21, who runs a grocery shop in the village. He said that giving the land on lease proved to be “quite beneficial”.
“We have 5 acres of land, which we used for agriculture earlier. However, since the land wasn’t too fertile, we barely made around Rs 60,000 in six months from cultivation. Labour costs were huge and income, nowhere close. Now we make Rs 1.5 lakh over the same period of time,” Harsana said.
At some parts of the Yamuna bank that was given to the farmers on lease by Delhi Development Authority for agriculture, farmers have developed cricket fields, which they rent out to academies.
On the bank of the river in the Shastri Park area, two cricket academies are run on once agricultural fields. Around 100 boys and girls hone and harness their cricket skills on these fields every day.
“We take this cricket ground on rent for around six hours every day. It costs us about Rs 4,500 per month. I have been training aspiring cricketers for a decade and do feel that the space for cricket is shrinking,” Vinod Solanki, a 53-year-old cricket coach, said.
The Delhi Development Authority has 15 sports complexes in the city, which are rented out to cricketers to run academies. DDA Commissioner and Secretary D Sarkar said that the revenue generated from these academies would be used for maintenance of the playfields.
“We have a pact with the academies. Sixty per cent of the student fee goes to them and the rest to DDA, which is used for maintenance,” Sarkar said, adding that there are no risks of encroachment on these complexes.
The DDA, apart from these sports complexes, also has parks in the city “where children play whatever they want”.
However, there aren’t any playgrounds under the DDA’s jurisdiction. Akash Chauhan, who works as a coach at the academy run by a Green Field School in Vivek Vihar said it is a struggle to find playgrounds in the city that are suitable for running cricket academies.
“There’s doubtlessly a problem in finding suitable fields these days for hosting (cricket) tournaments. There are hardly any grounds,” Chauhan said, adding his academy is meant mostly for students of the school, while outsiders need special permission to practise here. “That is why, 99 per cent of my students are from Greenfield itself,” he said.
In 2016, the Delhi government started renting out playgrounds of its 77 schools to encourage more children to take up sports. Sports clubs and associations organise events on these playgrounds after school hours and during holidays.
The schools run by the municipal corporations are also toying with a similar plan to make up for the shrinking space for playgrounds.