CHENNAI: What is softball? The question is likely to draw blank stares from most Indians. A cousin of the popular American game baseball, it is played using a bigger ball and thinner slugger (bat). And unlike in baseball, the pitcher hurls the ball underarm. Quietly and almost unnoticed, a group of men were spotted practising softball at Jeppiaar College, in the outskirts of the city. They are the Indian men’s team, getting ready for the 10th Asian Men Softball Championship to be held in Jakarta from April 23-28. After two camps, 17 players were selected for the event.
“Many players from across the country turned up for selection trials. After the first camp in Rajasthan in February, 23 players were selected and then in the second camp in Indore, it was brought down to 20. Now only the 17 going to Jakarta are attending the final camp,” said Devesh Chandel, India coach. India’s standing in softball is decent compared to other team sports. The men’s team is ranked fifth in Asia and 15th in the world. Last year, the International Baseball Softball Confederation president Riccardo Faccari came to India and was impressed with what he saw. “Faccari visited India as a judge for the softball nationals in 2017 and was very happy with the players.
He wants the game to expand in India and has got in touch with the Indian government in this regard. We are waiting for green light from the government,” said Praveen Anaoka, CEO of Softball Association of India. Praveen opines the scenario of softball in India is a lot better than five years ago. Due to an initiative by Protect Our Nation’s Youth (PONY, US-based NGO which runs softball and baseball leagues in 40 countries), the game is played in schools in almost 18 states, informed the official.
“We have collaborated with PONY. In 2013 we asked the state associations to come under the programme. Initially, only five states participated in the leagues. Gradually, this number has risen to 18.” Most of the players representing India work as physical education teachers in schools and colleges. Some were recruited through sports quota after doing well in the nationals. Chhattisgarh has been the most successful state so far, having won the national title four times.
Sia Ram Patel, a member of the Indian team, is from Chhattisgarh. He was employed as a labour inspector by his state after excelling in the nationals. “Our team won gold in 2013 when I was the captain. I was selected by the government as labour inspector in 2015,” said the 28-year-old. Government patronage and a good performance by the Indian team at the Asian Championship will be a big boost for softball in the country.