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Wednesday, April 01, 2020

How a Punjab village hit the ball out of the park with a stadium

Set up entirely from funds raised by villagers, the stadium was built in 2005 as a memorial for Jathedar Santokh Singh, the chief sewadaar of the Gurdwara Falahi Sahib, which draws pilgrims from across the state to the village.

Written by Raakhi Jagga | Ludhiana | Updated: March 8, 2020 10:06:45 am
Punjab Basketball Association, Ludhiana District Cricket Association, Ludhiana Cricket Association, Cricket Association Ludhiana, India news, Indian Express Sarpanch Jasbir Singh (right) with coach Harbhajan Singh at the Falahi Sahib cricket stadium in Ludhiana. (Express Photo by Gurmeet Singh)

“Until 2003, this was the village shamlaat (common land) where we grew a few things, usually grapefruit. But nothing much. Look at how it has transformed,” says Darshan Singh, the village postman in his mid-50s, facing the ground where an U-14 cricket match is on.

The stadium, spread across 8 acres in Dulley village in Ludhiana district, boasts of three cricket pitches. Set up entirely from funds raised by villagers, the stadium was built in 2005 as a memorial for Jathedar Santokh Singh, the chief sewadaar of the Gurdwara Falahi Sahib, which draws pilgrims from across the state to the village.

“The jathedar had a great role in spreading the knowledge of gurbani and kirtan among several villages around ours. He had even sponsored the education of several underprivileged children. So when he died in 2005, we thought we must build a memorial. And we thought what can be a better memorial than something that inspires the youth and keeps them on the right track,” says Teja Singh Dhaliwal, a village resident and president of the Punjab Basketball Association.

Today, the stadium, which draws youngsters from 10 surrounding villages, besides some from Ludhiana, 18 km away, hosts inter-district cricket matches organised by the Ludhiana District Cricket Association (LDCA). Among those who have played here is Baltej Singh, a medium pacer who represented Punjab in the ongoing Ranji Trophy and who is a resident of Kaddo, a village near Dulley.

Other Ludhiana players — including Dipin Chitkara, now a member of Punjab’s U-23 cricket team, and Jayesh Jain, who has played over 35 first-class cricket matches, besides a number of

U-19 and seniors players of Punjab — have played several inter-district matches at this cricket ground.

Aishmine Kaur, 15, who is representing Punjab in an U-19 women’s cricket tournament in Guwahati and was adjudged player of the match in the team’s first match against Himachal Pradesh, says that for two years, she would travel from Ludhiana every weekend to practise at the Dulley cricket ground. “I played with the boys every weekend. The Falahi Sahib cricket ground shaped me as a player,” she says on the phone.

Jasbir Singh Dehlon, father of off-spinner Manjot Singh Dehlon, who was part of the Punjab U-19 cricket team last year, says, “Our village is close to Dulley. This ground was a boon to Manjot since there was no such ground nearby area. Now my son (who has represented the state in school games) goes to the ground, not only to play but for fitness sessions as well.”

Harjinder Singh, chief sewadaar of the gurdwara, says, “Of the youngsters who come here to play matches, a number of them are in the Punjab state team. We plan to soon construct a hostel for teams coming from outside Ludhiana to play tournaments.”

Dhaliwal says the villagers spent around Rs 20 lakh on the stadium, including on a parking space for around 300 vehicles. “While most of the money came from amongst ourselves, a few NRIs pitched in too. Once, Akali MLA Darshan Singh Shiwalik helped with funds for the fence surrounding the stadium, but otherwise we don’t expect anything from politicians. We are self-sufficient and are happy that ground is producing good players,” he says.

Harbhajan Singh Kala, who coaches nearly 50 players at the ground (Kala coaches at his private academy in Ludhiana city, but uses the ground for weekend matches), has taken the ground on an annual lease from the village panchayat. “I pay Rs 23,000 per month to the village panchayat. Besides, I spend Rs 3,000 a month on power bills and pay Rs 12,000 a month to a caretaker who looks after the ground and pitches.”

Jasbir Singh Jassi, a panchayat member who handles the accounts, says the Rs 2.66 lakh that the panchayat gets as lease money from the stadium is ploughed back into the stadium. “When the new panchayat took over last year, we did some maintenance work on the ground. We have also paid pending water bills,” he says.

Dhaliwal adds, “The stadium is not a profit-making venture but a platform to encourage youngsters. We are also in talks with the Punjab Cricket Association to make this their rural training centre.”

Though the stadium primarily hosts cricket matches, there are occasional football and handball matches too. Youngsters who have signed up for Army recruitment rallies also use the ground for their fitness training.

Jassi says, “Many organisations come to us and ask for the ground to be given to them on a 10-year lease, but our panchayat has decided we won’t give for more than five years.”

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