A local league with 50-odd teams spread across four divisions, age-group tournaments run by the state body, school and college games. About 300 matches, plus practice arrangements for various age-group teams in men’s and women’s categories. That’s routine activity for a state association playing in BCCI tournaments.
Making these activities unique at the ground in a corner of Shillong’s Jawaharlal Nehru Sports Complex is the fact that practically, it’s the only one at the disposal of Meghalaya Cricket Association. There is another, about 300kms away, which makes this plot of land the de facto sole destination for bat and ball in a state with a population of 3.2 million. With a pretty, little pavilion overlooking, the ground was fighting to be in shape on a wet October afternoon.
“We have a long monsoon and short cricket season. Till a few months ago, a roller and a mower was all we had to tend to this ground. Yes, nearly 300 matches are played here,” grins Peter Lamare, a cricket coach certified by the National Institute of Sports, who is also a qualified pitch curator.
It’s easy to dismiss the entry of six Northeast states into the BCCI fold through a women’s U-19 tournament in Dhanbad as a farce, because figures like 100 wides, totals of 17 and 18 made headlines. But before writing them off, where they come from and what they make do with is worth a look. Shillong offers a reflection of the state of cricket in a region that has become India’s cradle of another game. Teaching boys and girls right elbow position while driving on the back foot is tougher than getting them to run after a football. And that’s what they see hundreds do, at the Shillong Lajong FC grounds adjoining the one for cricket.
Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Sikkim are playing in tournaments introduced by the BCCI this season in every category except for senior men. These events feature the six and Bihar, with the top two to compete against two each from the established zones of North, East, South, West and Central. Granting these states full BCCI membership, which will entitle them to funds, is pending in the court, even though the Lodha commission has recommended their inclusion. From 2009-13, they received `50 lakh a year as grant for associate members. Full members of BCCI got an average of `25 crore annually in that period.
Other than funds and therefore infrastructure, natural factors act as impediments. Grounds are hard to come by due to the topography. Long monsoon truncates the season. Turf wickets in good condition are a rarity, which forces players to cement or mat surfaces. It was only this year that they saw ground maintenance equipment for the first time, given by a BCCI committee set up for betterment of the game in the region. In terms of primary infrastructure like ground, pitch, practice facilities, these states are ages behind those with own stadiums, indoor training centres and multiple venues.
“Expenditures run up to a substantial amount, for conducting tournaments and maintenance of ground, other than paying coaches hired from time to time. Without BCCI funding, it’s difficult to grow or sustain. This association is managing with interest of the money saved from what we got in the past and private patronage,” says Naba Bhattacharjee, secretary of Meghalaya Cricket Association and member of the BCCI’s Northeast committee. Annual requirement is around `25 lakh.
A few states from the Northeast have hired outstation players even for U-19 teams. There lies the challenge, of attracting the local population instead of banking on professionals or the section originally from the plains, who have settled in the hills and are better versed with the game. Sons of the soil are new to cricket, attracted after IPL became TV phenomenon.
“None of the girls in our U-19 team knew cricket a few months ago. We selected them from other sports, got coaches to teach them basics and persisted with them, knowing that results won’t be good,” Lamare says. All players of this team are of Khasi origin. Some were struggling to get the ball to the striker before it bounced twice, during practice 10 days before the women’s U-19 event in Dhanbad. “But we want to focus on them because the interest is growing,” asserts Bhattacharjee. “To compete with football we need round-the-year activity. It’s essential to have an indoor facility, for which we have the space. We also have to develop more grounds and a small stadium. None of it is possible until the BCCI gives us recognition.”
There is no daydreaming. They know to compete with states playing cricket for over a century will take time. They also think results will not be as bad with men’s teams. Even after separating from Assam to become a state in 1972, Meghalaya has produced first-class cricketers. Fast bowler Mark Ingty played for Assam from 2001-06. Lamare’s son Jason opened the batting for the same team around the same time. Jonathan Rongsen is a batsman for Railways from Nagaland, who grew up in Bengaluru. So talent is not the primary problem.
“We are realistic and not expecting instant results,” Lamare sums up the mood. “There are promising players in the boys’ U-16 category. It’s this group that we have to concentrate on, so that they can take on established teams after five-six years. It was important to make a start and that has been made. We see a rise in numbers taking to cricket.”
He was not exaggerating. Parents of over 300 children shell out `400 a month for attending the academy run by the association, 40 teams take part in the inter-school tournament and because the ground is open to all, it’s common to see dads bringing kids for brief net sessions before dropping them off to school. Will is not the problem in the hills. Just that without money, it’s difficult to find a way.
On a different pitch
Despite geographical and financial constraints, cricket has been played in the hills. As far as progress is concerned, it will take time...
Cricket in Northeast
Process on to integrate Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal, Sikkim in mainstream of Indian cricket.
Except for senior men’s category, they are playing in tournaments with Bihar as seventh side. Top two qualify for national zonal finals.
Shillong’s Jawaharlal Nehru sports complex will host the boys’ U-16 competition in December. It’s the only tournament in the region this season.
Shillong has a history of cricket. As part of an undivided state, it hosted Assam’s first Ranji Trophy match at the Garrison Ground in 1948.
These six states are not yet full members of BCCI. The matter of their recognition is pending in Supreme Court, as part of the reform case.
BCCI technical committee chairman Sourav Ganguly has said these teams should play more and get better before being included in Ranji Trophy.
The BCCI’s NE development committee has not done much. It was headed by former president Jagmohan Dalmiya for a while. His son Avishek held the position after his death.
Mark Ingty and Jason Lamare are players from Meghalaya who represented Assam in Ranji Trophy and one-day games from 2001-07.
Jonathan Rongsen of Nagaland grew up in Bengaluru and plays for Railways in Ranji Trophy. He has been part of Karnataka Premier League.
Nagaland’s Hokaito Zhimomi played for Bengal U-19 and was among KKR reserves in the first edition of IPL in 2008. Played for Assam later on.