Assam cricket team’s Vijay Hazare success’ seeds sown in soil from Balangir
Assam Cricket team

Guwahati: The seeds of Assam’s glorious show at the 2022 Vijay Hazare Trophy, the premier domestic white-ball 50-over tournament, were sown some three years back when the former apex council took charge under the leadership of president Ramen Dutta and secretary Devajit Lon Saikia.

Saikia recently took charge as the national cricket board (BCCI), joint secretary. On Saturday, he revealed that the Kunal Saikia-led state team’s performance in the tournament, where they reached the semifinals, justified the former council’s decision to relay the wickets in Assam during the Covid-19-induced nationwide lockdown in 2020.

“In 2019 when the apex council took over, we asked (Assam all-rounder) Swarupam Purkayastha, ‘what ails Assam batters’ and found that the existing pitches in Assam weren’t suitable for playing long innings. For decades, Assam has banked more on its bowling strength in domestic cricket than its batting. That was an eye opener for us,” Saikia revealed on the side lines of a felicitation programme hosted by the Assam Cricket Association (ACA) for the state team.

“We immediately decided to bring soil from places with good cricketing wickets. We knew we could not fetch it from Mumbai, so we visited the nearby states like Bengal and Jharkhand. We sought help from veteran curator Ashish Bhowmick, who suggested we get soil from Odisha’s Balangir, and accordingly during the first wave we got 8-10 trucks of soil for 20 wickets.

“We used the soil to relay the wickets at Barsapara Stadium, Judges Field and Amingaon Stadium, where most of the domestic cricket takes place, and our team regularly trains. Our curators Vinod Sharma, Bibhuti and Mukut deserve the credit for risking themselves throughout the first phase of the lockdown to relay the wickets, so that our players can benefit by playing in batting-friendly wickets,” he added.

Saikia, who represented Assam as a stumper during his playing days, said it was a welcome change in the history of the state’s cricket that the batters have outperformed the bowlers, who also deserved equal credit for restricting powerhouses like Karnataka, Vidarbha, Delhi, before thrashing Jammu and Kashmir in the quarterfinals of the Vijay Hazare trophy tournament.

“If you look at the overall performance, our batters have chased down challenging totals like the 350 against J&K, and 296 against a team like Karnataka. The apex council won’t take the credit but with all due credit to the players, the curating staff of the Assam Cricket Association also deserves a pat for their effort,” he said.

“The whole country is recognising Assam’s performance, even the BCCI president Roger Binny personally called me to congratulate the team’s show,” he added.

Saikia also expressed his satisfaction that their decision to field only local players has yielded the desired results. “In 2016, we decided to lessen the number of professional players from other states in our team, and in 2019, we made our resolve stronger, and stopped hiring any professionals. The idea was to back our players, and have their services for a considerable period,” said Saikia, echoed by the team’s coach Shubhrojit Saikia.

Considering Assam’s performance in the premier tournament, the BCCI joint secretary also revealed that three or four names are “in circulation” among the bigwigs on the board, but at the same time urged the team to guard against complacency as the Ranji Trophy starts in around 10 days.

“These days, I am involved in selecting the women’s teams, even today we had a meeting. I want to see the selectors taking the names of our players, when we discuss the players from other states, it is not a happy situation for me. When I find our players in contention as Jinti Moni Kalita (selected in India B team), that is the real success for Assam cricket,” he said.

“As of now, three-four names of the men’s team are in circulation but within 10 days, the Ranji Trophy season will start. It is red-ball cricket, it’s equally important, so you also have to calibrate your mental part, the camps are starting in three-four days’ time, and you need to prepare yourself to sustain the pressure for the next two and a half months of cricket,” advised Saikia.

Newly-elected ACA president Taranga Gogoi also joined the former secretary in wishing the team the best before the gruelling four-day cricket tournament begins, as he along with the rest of the apex council distributed the cheques of Rs 25 lakh and Rs 10 lakh for the players and the support staff, respectively. The ACA also announced a cash award of Rs 1 lakh to Jinti Moni Kalita for her selection to the India B team.

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