BANGALORE: Indian club cricket may not command the investment and following of its English equivalent, but there is no doubt of its role in shaping young careers.
In what may be the clearest indication of its importance, the powerhouses of India's domestic circuit - Mumbai, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Hyderabad - all have age-old club structures in place that have often formed the first competitive cricket experience for many players who went on to represent the country.
Two such stars from India's constantly expanding cricket galaxy recently reiterated the role that playing for clubs at a young age made in their careers. As part of the Karnataka State Cricket Association's platinum jubilee celebrations, former captain Rahul Dravid and fast bowler Javagal Srinath said that they benefitted immensely from rubbing shoulders with local giants - an interaction that was facilitated by their local clubs.
“When I started, I was able to play among the likes of Roger Binny, G.R. Viswanath; I even faced Raghuram Bhat on a matting wicket in IISc. It was a great thrill and experience to play and interact with them. When I saw them, long before I played for the country, I made up my mind to go back and play if I was healthy.
True to his word, Dravid came back after his international retirement to turn out for Bangalore United Cricket Club.
"I felt it owed that back, not as repayment – because I can’t – but as respect for what I’d received.”
For Srinath, now the KSCA Secretary, matters of selection and an assured future in the game mattered very little.
"To us, representation didn’t matter. It was about being with the club, among the players. Today, kids can get discouraged and want to change clubs if they don’t get selected; you have to play for the love of the game. I developed a loyalty to the club that I still cherish.”
“You have to ask yourself what your aspiration is,” Dravid added, “If it’s only to get into the State under-16 and 19 teams, there are going to be a lot of disappointed kids because only 15 can be selected.”
On the occasion of its platinum jubilee, the KSCA also honored 118 of its clubs that had been around for over 50 years. There were, however, voices of dissent. The KSCA had actually completed 75 years in 2009, compelling some to view the ongoing celebrations and felicitations as merely a vote-gaining tactic by the present administration in view of upcoming elections in September.
Speaking to the Indian Express, former KSCA secretary Brijesh Patel said, “The platinum jubilee was four years ago. So why not allow the next committee to celebrate it? Three hundred voting members, including life members and clubs, have written to the managing committee. It is not ethical to hold the celebrations in an election year or just before elections.”
Srinath, however, was quick on the defensive. "This is only the culmination of the platinum jubilee celebrations. The new pavilion buildings in Mysore and Hubli were inaugurated as part of the celebrations during the last cricket season. Those who are trying to link the elections and the platinum jubilee celebrations are only trying to undermine our good work,” he said.