I saw Krunal Pandya a couple of days ago and marvelled at the confidence these young players seem to show on the big stage. It is a quality his brother Hardik possesses too so clearly there is something in the air they were breathing as young children. You see this confidence in Shreyas Iyer and Deepak Hooda as well and it got me thinking, not just about the way this generation approaches cricket, but, more tangentially, where they are coming from. And, indeed, where they are not coming from.
In its early days, Indian cricket had very well-defined catchment areas. Bombay was one of course, but the rest tended to be princely states for that was where patronage existed. Indore, Baroda, Hyderabad to name just three. But thereafter it was really Bombay, Delhi and Bangalore with fairly regular representation from Hyderabad, Tamil Nadu, Baroda and Bengal. The first three are doing all right but it is interesting to see where else players are coming from.
Tamil Nadu is doing all right and Baroda is throwing up short-form cricketers like they are growing them there. But post Ashok Dinda and Manoj Tiwari, things are drying up in Bengal with Wriddhiman Saha the lone representative (I didn’t mention Mohd Shami because he is really an import), and in Hyderabad, and how it hurts to say this, the land is parched and nobody is sowing. Both Kolkata and Hyderabad had pretty good local cricket systems and the standard of the senior division in Hyderabad, I can tell from personal experience, was pretty good with a lot of players from Andhra playing there too. I would be really interested in seeing how Sourav Ganguly handles this in Bengal but of Hyderabad…I don’t know. I keep asking VVS Laxman and Arshad Ayub and Doc MV Sridhar everytime I meet them and I don’t get a name that excites everyone.
But rather delightfully, new centres have emerged, and none more so than Uttar Pradesh which, in spite of Kanpur being a Test centre, wasn’t ever a force. There were players like Hyder Ali, Anand Shukla, RS Hans, then Zaidi, Khandkar and Pandey, but not like now where post Mohd Kaif, you have Suresh Raina, Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav. And I won’t be surprised if there are more coming through. Haryana seems a fertile area and even once-little Himachal is active.
But the state that I am most impressed by is Gujarat. Baroda had a Gaekwad, a More and a Mongia and Saurashtra threw up many talented Jadejas, but taken as a whole, they are booming now. Top of my head, I can think of Parthiv Patel, Axar Patel, the Pathans, the Pandyas, Hooda, Pujara, Jadeja and Jackson, even Ambati Rayudu (though that is Hyderabad’s loss). More important, everytime I see the scorecard, I see someone else has either scored runs or taken wickets, and that is wonderful to see.
For a while, post Sreesanth, Kerala seemed to have produced a good crop too, but it seems to have faded away a bit, and that is a matter of concern because Sanju Samson needs to be nurtured. Sadly, twin Ranji Trophy triumphs haven’t led to too much in Rajasthan because putting out a team is an effort sometimes. And we must keep our eyes open to see if Assam’s fine run this year leads to something more substantial.
I would be very happy if that happens because it would be indicative of far and wide the game has been taken. Now, maybe, the BCCI can do a survey the kind Cricket Australia does from time to time, to see what these young emerging players from newer catchment areas dream about. I think it might be revealing, I think it might tell us that, for all the right things said about Test cricket, they might prefer playing for three hours.