Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Club Cricket in Bangalore: Lessons Learnt over a Working Lunch

Jupiter Cricket Club

My colleague GT is making a comeback from a nasty ankle injury suffered over a year ago and is back practicing with his club whom he intends to represent again this season. GT the cricketer plays for a club called Jupiter, which fields teams in multiple divisions of the Bangalore club cricket league organized by the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA).

Jupiter has been around for twenty or more years and raises funds by charging its members (the players) a sum of rupees two hundred a month. Assuming a membership of around fifty people that would generate annual revenues of a lakh and twenty thousand rupees. In addition to this, they may receive a cash award from KSCA, if they finish high enough in the divisions that their teams are represented.

The money that the club raises is spent on equipment, logistics and participation fees. Like many other local clubs, Jupiter has minimized the cost for the ground by renting space owned by the local corporation and hence is able to manage sufficiently well within the funds raised. Since a number of players like GT, represent Jupiter more with the objective of staying active in the game rather than graduating to the higher echelons of district/state/national cricket, the objective is well served. Of course, none of the players get paid for their efforts and I suspect all of them would hold some sort of a day job or another.

The Cricketer Career Path

Clubs like Jupiter form one part of the rather intense and broad based local cricket scene. KSCA also organizes school and university level tournaments and has yet another competitive set up for Companies, with many public sector enterprises keeping players on pay rolls to represent them in these tournaments.

There is a degree of inter-play within each of these leagues, with clubs being free to pick players either from the school and university pool or from the pool that represents Companies. For both sets of players, playing for the clubs would probably provide them more exposure as well as competitiveness, though in very rare cases would that be translating into direct financial rewards.

So that establishes a structure where provided you have enough talent and are not horribly unlucky, you could get ample opportunities to get noticed for the bigger stage, while being able to make a living doing what you love best (if that happens to be playing cricket).

Imagine the scenario, a promising school kid gets noticed by a club and is picked up by them to start playing in a division where most of the players are better and more experienced. The youngster’s game improves and when he passes out of school, he lands a job with a prestigious enough public sector company and plays cricket for them. Thus, the young man’s livelihood is ensured while he uses the club league performances to get noticed by state and zonal selectors and then attempts to chart his way into the Ranji, Duleep, IPL or even the Indian team.

I know it does not always work out so simply for all talented cricketers and there are enough holes in the system which sees many players having to drop out of the competitive scene even before they hit their prime. Point is that the basic structure to make the scenario possible exists and maybe that is why this city (and the country) has abundance in numbers and talent with regards to cricket.

Lessons for Others

To explain my point in another way, here’s a question – What percentage of kids representing their school in football, continue to play competitive football at any level at the age of twenty-five? What is the same statistic for cricket?

I don’t have the answers, but my gut feeling is that cricket will outscore football by a fair margin. Therein lies the challenge for football, hockey and any other sport you care to think of. Get enough kids to play the game in school, keep enough of them playing when they are adults and you will get enough raw matter to turn into champions. All other talk of better infrastructure, better coaching, and increased sponsorship is secondary. For me, the problem of Indian sport is the problem of keeping the kid on the field when the kid grows old and that is where cricket has succeeded.

No comments: