New Indian Army sports policy leaves cricket out, players in lurch

Services are competing in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy and are scheduled to take on Odisha on Saturday but the development meant IA cricketers are not in the team 
Image used for representational purpose (File photo | AP)
Image used for representational purpose (File photo | AP)

CHENNAI: Cricket's biggest tournament, the ODI World Cup is being held in India, with stars from across the globe descending upon here to vie for the top honours for their respective countries. The Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) is leaving no stone unturned to make the tournament a huge success rolling out a red carpet for participants. However, a group of domestic cricketers have been forced out of the field for no fault of theirs, right under its nose.

Ironically enough, only a few days ago the International Olympic Committee during its session in Mumbai agreed to include cricket in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics ensuring its return to the biggest sporting extravaganza since 1900.

The cricketers, who joined the Indian Army (IA) to play for the Services Sports Control Board (SSCB) in the domestic tournaments before making it to the national team, seemed to have been left in the lurch mid-way with their employer deciding to revise the sports policy from this financial year. The revision resulted in the closure of a few nodes including Cricket.

The Services team comprised cricketers from three armed forces — Army, Navy and Air Force - in the past. They are competing in the ongoing Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy and are scheduled to take on Odisha in their fourth match on Saturday but the new sports policy meant Indian Army cricketers are not in the team. Unable to pursue their profession in the Army, a few cricketers have even decided to quit the force so that they can represent some other state.

"None of the Indian Army cricketers are representing Services in the T20 tournament. We have been reverted to our parent units. The existing situation has also made a few cricketers look for another option even if it means tendering resignation," one of the affected cricketers told The New Indian Express.

According to the Indian Army Sports Policy 2023. the review has focussed on energising the sports ecosystem in the IA up to the 'Inter-Services' level while devising a separate system for podium finish at the international level through recruitment of proven talent as direct entry havildar and naib subedar. The key focus areas included disciplines having the potential to produce podium finishes at national, and international levels and meet the key result areas of the Mission Olympic Programme of the IA. 

It also focuses on the reversion of players and special staff from regimental centres to field units and the closure of all non-performing sports disciplines and their nodes. The nodes that are closed include cycle, rugby, cricket, water polo, gymnastics, golf, tennis and squash.

The Indian Army used to field two teams in the Inter-Services Championships — Red and Green. However, as per the revised policy, the standing Green team will be retained only in athletics, boxing, wrestling and weightlifting. The policy says green teams of other 16 fields will converge 45 days prior to the Inter-Services Championships and after the termination of the competition, the teams will be dissolved and manpower will be reverted to units.

"Cricket doesn't have a Red team so it means we cannot play at all. The Inter-Services Championship for cricket was held recently at Palam Ground but Indian Army players were not part of it. It served as selection trials for the BCCI tournaments as well. This is why none of the Army cricketers are there in the Services team for the ongoing T20 tournament being held by the BCCI," added the cricketer.

According to the policy, all sportspersons and staff of green teams except those exempted, regimental sports teams and manpower of nodes closed down have been reverted back to their parent units earliest not later than March 25, 2023.

"We have reviewed various sports disciplines and how they are helping in nation-building through sports. Nodes of a few disciplines like rugby and cricket have been closed as they were not delivering results. But that closure doesn't mean those attached to them were asked to go. They have been reverted to their parent units," Brigadier (PT) Satyavrat Sheoran, the signatory of the new sports policy, told this daily. "One thing is very clear when you join the Indian Army, the primary job is to serve your country. Sports and other things are secondary," he added.

Brigadier Sheoran said the policy never refrained cricketers from taking part in any tournament. "The cricketers can take part in the tournament provided the team for which they want to play and their respective units permit them."

Sarabjit Singh, a former player who has played for domestic cricket for 22 years and coached the SSCB team for six years, is not amused. "My question is simple, why they have been recruited through sports quota if they were not supposed to play? If the policy has to be revised, these players should have been given some time at least six months to one year before executing the new one so that they could have found ways if they want to pursue a career in cricket." Wicketkeeper-batter Sarabjit had played 91 First-Class matches, 72 List A matches and seven T20s.

It is learnt that a few cricketers tried to get into other teams before the start of the domestic season but couldn't succeed given the short period of time they had to make the move. "By the time I decided to try my luck in one of the state teams, the association had already conducted an inter-divisional tournament to select the team. Luckily even if I had made it there then also there was no guarantee that my unit would have permitted me to leave the field and compete. It's quite frustrating especially, in the backdrop of the 2023 World Cup in the country," signed off the cricketer.

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