CUTTACK: Odisha’s efforts at the DRIEMS cricket ground on Day 3 of their Group C Ranji Trophy clash with Tamil Nadu can be looked at in two ways. The first and obvious one is a showcasing of grit and application by their batsmen. Albeit aided by a few fielding errors, the underdogs — they’re placed last in the group with two points — made the visitors toil, bringing down their first-innings deficit to 244 while losing only four wickets.
The second one is that they perhaps could have dusted off more runs than they did, considering that this was more or less the same team which represented Odisha in the quarterfinals of the event last year. The potential showcased by them in 2016 warranted more, be it in this match or in terms of their overall campaign this time.
Much in line with the second view, incomplete realisation of talent — in the literal sense — has hit Odisha this year. That too just after making fans of the sport in the state proud by entering the knockout stage of the tournament after a gap of 16 years.
Though a generous sprinkling of fresh faces is not any team’s prerequisite, that Shantanu Mishra was the only first-class greenhorn in Odisha’s squad serves as a tangible aftermath of a bigger problem that has plagued the state this year. Due to administrative flux post the Lodha Committee recommendations, grassroots cricket has come to a standstill. No sanctioned inter-district, inter-club, and inter-college events have taken place in the state since the end of March.
“A good domestic structure is key to building a good team,” remarked Odisha coach Shiv Sunder Das. “The talent is always there. It’s about going to the districts and looking out for them. Tournaments like the Kalahandi Cup serve as a pool for the U-19 and U-23 sides. Good leagues like the ones in Tamil Nadu too help do the same.”
Apart from the state’s conveyor belt of raw-talent supply grinding to a halt, even the established players have been hit by this. The Dr (Capt) K Thimmappiah Memorial Tournament in Karnataka, the Buchi Babu invitational tournament in Tamil Nadu, and the Bhau Saheb Nimbalkar invitational tournament in Maharashtra used to be standard pre-season fixtures for Odisha. This year, they didn’t attend any.
“One major difference between last year and this one is our quality of preparation,” observed Odisha captain Govinda Poddar. “We missed out on match practice from those events, especially in terms of facing competitive oppositions and learning from those experiences. Without these fixtures, gelling together as a team becomes difficult, since you’ve only actually started playing as a team just before the start of the tournament.”
This season notwithstanding, Poddar has an optimistic view for the state’s intermediate future. “It’s sad that nothing has happened in terms of cricket this time around, but that isn’t a result of any particular deliberation. Hopefully, a way forward will be figured out. In terms of our senior team, the combination that we have at the moment is showing promise. Things will get better.”