Sunday, July 1, 2012

In A League Of Their Own – Part 1

Talent, I’ve heard many a wizard of the 22 yard game say, must be nurtured from an early age. So when I received an invitation to play in the 6th ‘A’ division of the TNCA league, I was tickled. Surely at 37, they weren’t expecting me to grow through the ranks and represent the state.
Delighted? Oh yes.
Playing cricket has always been for me, a source of incomparable entertainment. From the time I picked up my first bat, at least a kilogram too heavy for my 6-year-old hands, and started waving it approximately in the direction of a rubber ball thrown at me, I was hooked. So when, 3 decades later, I was offered a chance to play, I did not shoulder arms.
Rechristened TNCA M0608, I was then formally inducted as a registered member of the faith.
Now I wasn’t exactly not playing cricket before that. Sunday cricket is very popular among amateur teams in Chennai, and was therefore equally popular with me. A game and a net session every week kept me in touch, but I was looking for more. League cricket I believed would be the answer. Regular morning practice sessions, coaches, better bowlers and more matches… ah, my new life was around the corner.
I waited. Then waited some more. There was no sign of the corner.
Then one day I received an SMS. Not a number on my phone book. The sender announced himself as the captain of the team, informed me of a match in two days, and asked me to be at the venue an hour ahead of start time. Hope blossomed once again.
Now a Sunday afternoon in Chennai is a lovely time to drive, and a terrible time to play cricket. The roads are low on traffic and the sun is at its summit, which makes getting to the field of play far easier than getting on it. At the prescribed time however, I was at the venue looking around for the faces I’d seen at the signing. Thirty minutes later, things still looked bleak. I checked with a scorer who sat at a table under a tree, and he confirmed that my team was indeed slated to play the afternoon game.
With about twenty minutes to go, a car and a couple of two-wheelers pulled up with the rest of my team. A few others wandering around the lines, gathered around on seeing the group. The captain announced himself and then the eleven. In quick time the toss was taken and so was the decision to field.
It was a 30 over a side game, and rather unfortunately but not entirely unexpectedly we didn’t have much say in the proceedings thereafter. A flogging followed. The manager berated the team’s efforts, and then disappeared not to be seen until the next match. With not so much as even a team meeting in between, the result of game 2 also went along expected lines. And so it continued till the end of the season when we were left holding a balance sheet with no returns.
0-6 was the final season score. Fortunately there wasn’t much lower to go from the 6th division, and so there this team stayed, which led me to wonder about a few things.
Who runs league teams?
What do they benefit from running these teams?
How do they pick players for these teams?
Does winning or losing make a difference?
How can a team play an entire season without a single practice session? (At the time of writing this piece, a second season had passed without a measly hour at the nets. A paucity of funds was apparently the reason. I also discovered that this practice, or the lack of it, was prevalent up to the 4th division. Perhaps even higher.)
How was this happening in a system apparently designed to nurture talent?
Was the TNCA aware of these glaring inadequacies?
Why was there no age limit for players in the league? (We had a player who looked close to 50 and went for more, but had to be given his full quota of overs as he was a senior officer in the company that owned the team.)
I skipped every match in season 2, as this wasn’t a team as much as it was a gathering of eleven people. (Some had skill. Others were the manager’s friends. One kid’s dad was in the team, and so got a place in the XI.) My weekend cricket team was a complete contrast. The commitment and skill levels were far higher. The desire to improve, greater. We practised every Saturday, and played a game every Sunday. We invited players better than us, to our nets to help youngsters with their game. We even faced the bowling machine every now and then.
Why then were we not trying to get into in the TNCA league I wondered? And importantly how could we make it there?
(To be continued.)