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OPINION

A ray of hope for Assam cricket

At a time when district league structure all over is taking a blow, Assam Premier Club Championship has come as a boon for state’s clubs to revive their dwindling fortunes

Kausav Baruah

At a time when things don’t seem to be too bright as far as the game of cricket in Assam is concerned, the ongoing Assam Premier Club Championship certainly does provide a ray of hope.

Although the state senior team has time and again shown that there isn't any dearth of potential, the absence of proper bench strength seems to be a serious concern. The senior side has been lacking the bench strength in a big way and there has hardly been players who have made a serious case of replacing them.

It has often been seen that some of the players in the senior team are donning the rhino emblem for years without any significant performances. With them having passed their prime quite some time ago, these players -- mostly central government employees -- are rest assured of retaining their respective places in the side. With the high match-fee offered by the BCCI, these players hardly have to think of anything else!

If we take a close look at Assam's Vijay Hazare Trophy performance this season it definitely reveals the health of Assam cricket. A team which played the final of the coveted trophy in 2012-13 managed only a solitary win in nine outings -- that too against lowly Tripura by eight wickets. Why does the senior team has to struggle year after year barring the bright spark now and then?

Well, some might argue that there were no outstation recruits. But weren't our lads performing when there were pros around? They were. The Vijay Hazare Trophy final in the 2012-13 season or making it to the semifinals of the Ranji Trophy for the first time in 2015-16. Instead of building on those performances we continued to struggle. These could only be attributed to an apparent lack of vision, not sticking to a plan irrespective of results and improper grooming. As has been the case for several decades, the same pattern has been followed with absolutely no steps being taken to develop the game.

Now with the Assam Cricket Association's (ACA) much ambitious league underway now, there certainly seems to be a ray of hope after years of negligence especially at the grassroots level.

However, the road doesn't seem to be that easy for the cash-rich association with several hurdles in its way. The league, which has been promoted in a bid to provide the budding talents with a platform to showcase their talent, still has got a long way to go if youngsters need to come up through the ranks.

Although the newly elected body of the ACA has done a tremendous job by organising such a tournament in a short span of time, the scheduling certainly could have been better. With the HSLC and 12th Board exams too being held at the same time, several youngsters remain deprived of what could have been their best shot at making their presence felt.

On the other hand, the presence of several veteran cricketers as well as players who have passed their prime participating in the league just highlights the current situation of the sport in Assam. Although a balance of youth and experience is always required in a team, more budding cricketers in the league could have helped the cause.

Infrastructure too seems to be a concern as apart from a few districts, most others remain deprived of basic facilities. If we take a close look at Guwahati -- the place from where a majority of players have come up, the city lacks proper playing conditions. Despite Guwahati being the cricketing hub of the state, the grounds which once used to produce some of the finest players are in complete dilapidated condition today.

The Guwahati Sports Association has been organising the A Division Cricket League for the last couple of years in the IIT Guwahati ground which comes under the Kamrup (R) administration owing to unavailability of playgrounds in the city. The poor condition of grounds in various districts is a serious issue owing to which there are hardly players coming out. Without proper wickets and playing conditions there doesn't remain a chance of our players shining in a highly competitive domestic set-up.

Now, with 12 teams from six zones having qualified for the final round of the much-vaunted Assam Premier Club Championship which is underway at the ACA Stadium in Barsapara, Guwahati, it is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many to play in a stadium which has hosted internationals until recently.

Despite all this, the initiative taken by the state body is certainly praiseworthy and is likely to pay dividends in the longer run. With live streaming of some of the matches and data made available through the internet, the selectors can definitely keep track of the performances.

The league has also come as a boon for the clubs in the State with ample money at stake. At a time when the district league structure all over is taking a blow, the Assam Premier Club Championship has come up as a way for the clubs to revive their dwindling fortunes. A total amount of Rs 92 lakh is at stake as prize money while the champions and runners-up will walk away with cash award of Rs 20 lakh and Rs 10 lakh respectively.

It will be interesting to see how the selectors now look at some of the youngsters and the way they are being groomed. With continuity of this league, there certainly remains a ray of hope.

(Kausav Baruah is a sports journalist based in Guwahati, Assam. He can be reached at rkausav@gmail.com)