It’s a little trek getting to this place. The facility is located in an industrial area on the outskirts of Bengaluru, to be precise off Tumkur Road in Nelamangala taluk. If you quite manage the Bengaluru traffic alright, it shouldn’t take you more than an hour and 20 minutes to get there. And just as you enter the lane leading up to the ground, it’s hard to miss the aroma of freshly baked biscuits, coming out of the Unibic factory a few hundred metres away.
Chances are that you’ve probably never heard of Alur in North Bengaluru. But it houses a cricket facility developed by the Karnataka State Cricket Association. And though it is a work in progress, it is one of the best cricketing facilities in the country.
It’s not very often that you get to see and experience such sporting structures in India. Imagine walking past a gate bearing a half-rusty signboard that shouts out, “This property belongs to the Karnataka State Cricket Association”, and into a thirty-three acre facility that bears three distinct, Test-standard grounds cascading one below the other, all in one singular complex. It’s equally impossible to imagine a state association in India acquiring thirty-three acres of land in the first place, given the various constraints of unavailability and soaring costs. But the Karnataka State Cricket Association acquired this land somewhere around the early 2000s, and it wasn’t put to use till Anil Kumble and Co took over.
Kumble, whose panel successfully contested the KSCA elections in November 2010 says that Alur (and many other facilities) was acquired by the previous regime and, unfortunately, nothing was done to develop them. “It was a beautiful piece of land with wall structures.” he says.
There was a certain sense of urgency about putting infrastructure development as a top priority agenda within the KSCA. His former India team-mate and KSCA Secretary, Javagal Srinath says, “Our philosophy when we won the elections and took over the KSCA was to provide international-class facilities to our cricketers, not just in Bangalore but across Karnataka. So, we decided to revive the Alur project on a priority basis.”
Inaugurated in June 2012, the Alur facility now houses the Royal Challenge-KSCA Academy, headed by Indian legend Gundappa Viswanath. Srinath said, “Initially, academies in Karnataka were used for specific representational teams, like the Under-19 squad would train here for a camp ahead of a tournament. Access was limited, and it would almost seem like a transit camp. But now the idea is to make full use of the facility all round the year.”
He further states, “Our role was to redefine the academy structure here. What is an academy? An academy is more like an educational institution for cricketers. We ought to give them the best infrastructure so that they learn, develop and enhance their skills. Our intakes are aged 14 to 19, and our job is to give them everything so that they stay interested. We’ve also learnt that a young cricketer develops faster between ages 12 to 17, where there’s physical change and gradual mental improvement. Our job is to facilitate that development process in the best way we can.”
Going forward, the KSCA plans to transform the academy into a Centre of Excellence, where players from different centers in the state could centrally train over a period of time and develop their skills. “In the past, there was almost an obsession with representation, which probably meant that a lot of talent got wasted in the process. Our focus has changed towards development, and not representation. Now, our goal is to give talented cricketers every chance to develop for a certain period of time,” he says.
Today, the Alur facility stages close to 200 matches all round the year, including the ongoing Safi Darashah tournament, a flagship pre-season tournament hosted by the KSCA. “Any practical facility needs to be utilized. Which is why we hope to use this facility all round the year. Right now, we’re hosting KSCA tournaments, local league matches and all the age-group and school tournaments at Alur. We also plan to host a Ranji Trophy game in one of the grounds here soon,” says Kumble.
You can’t not get overawed by the facility in Alur. It’s a kind of structure every young cricketer, not just in Karnataka, but across the country, must crave for and ask why other associations can’t follow suit and provide similar infrastructure. Srinath says, “What we want our cricketers to do, is to not get overawed or surprised by the facility, and they must feel normal about training or playing in a world-class facility.” Kumble adds, “As a young cricketer, you’d want to get used to these facilities at that age.”
Take the sheer enormity of the property away, including the three grounds and the Alur facility could still stand apart on its own. Just besides Grounds 3, there are close to 20 nets, all turf wickets. There are plans to come up with an indoor facility within the premises, and also, there is a plan to provide residential facilities for outstation cricketers, though not an immediate priority.
“We believe in outdoor cricket, not indoor,” quips Srinath, but as part of the overall structure, it might well be on. The outfields in all three grounds, perfectly maintained can compete with some of the top grounds around the world. “By test-standard facilities, we just don’t mean the wickets that are used or practice facilities, but also important aspects like the outfield. I personally believe the outfields are among the best I’ve seen in the world.”
And interestingly, the Alur facility is well under budget too. “When we took over, we had budgeted a lot of money for the Alur project. But it’s turned out to be well under the budget, approximately Rs. 3 to 4 crores.”Apart from cricket, as one of the few associations that has always supported and endorsed education as a non-negotiable, Srinath says, they tell their wards to not take cricket all that seriously. “According to us, education is important. We believe in the “education first, cricket later” philosophy and accept only bonafide school students into our academy. Education must be a priority,” he says.
Interestingly, Alur is just one among the many impressive infrastructure work that has taken place under the Kumble administration. For a state that had a paucity of turf wickets before this regime took over and to be precise, two in Bengaluru and one in Mysore, the sheer pace with which development has taken place, with a constant desire to promote the game is testament to Kumble’s vision and the KSCA’s implementation.
“We have 9 academies in 6 districts throughout the state - Bangalore, Mysore, Hubli, Shimoga, Mangalore, Raichur and Tumkur,” says Srinath. In terms of grounds in other parts of Karnataka, Kumble says, they’ve tied up with educational institutions in certain cities to develop their facilities. “Earlier, we used to hire college grounds on rent to host matches and apart from costs, we were not guaranteed of the quality of the facilities there. So we decided to tie-up with these institutions and develop, improve and maintain their grounds there.”
Simultaneously, the KSCA has developed its own grounds in Hubli, Mysore (Gangothri Glades), Shimoga and the planned centre at Belgaum is almost ready. Karnataka is one of the few states that has taken cricket away from its urban centers, hosting Ranji Trophy matches in Mysore and Hubli or even the zonal leg of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy last year in Shimoga.
Karnataka today, stands apart as an association worth emulating. It offers you a template for development without compromise on quality and standards of infrastructure it already provides to its cricketers. “We provide free coaching camps in the summer in 41 districts. Nearly 2650 cricketers participate in this programme. Out of which, some of them are selected to report to the academies in the nearest district, who then get short-listed to move to Alur develop their cricket. At the moment, we have 500 players training throughout the year at different facilities and our aim is to further increase that number to 700,” says Srinath.
Alur and the KSCA in many ways represent an approach to cricket not many state associations in India are willing to take. It is about producing international cricketers too, but with less haste, and a great degree of patience and commitment. Indian cricket in the past has had a lot of vision, carefully outlined and calliberated in powerpoint presentations. The Karnataka model is about having a vision, and ensuring priority implementation. This, in many ways is the bus Indian cricket needs to hop on to.