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Catch it!

Sourav Ganguly was denied a place in Team India at the Iqbal Stadium in Faisalabad on Saturday morning. But there was no denying thousands of budding cricketers their place in the nets, from the Lakes to Salt Lake, this January morning. Some out to just stay fit and be with it, others pursuing the dream of being our next Sourav, and a precious few with the burning ambition to make it to the big league.

When Sourav ' and elder brother Snehasish ' had first taken stance at the Dukhiram Coaching Centre more than two decades ago, no one could have foreseen the future. Brothers Ganguly inspired a cricket revolution on the pitch and off it, with the younger one going on to become the most successful Indian skipper in history. And now, the brothers have lent their weight behind the best-equipped cricket camp in Calcutta.

'There used to be just one matting wicket for the nets at the Aryan club,' recounts Snehasish. 'Compared to what kids have today, we had no facilities then, but we fought it out.'

The oldest cricket cradle for Bengal, the Kartik Bose camp on a plot adjoining his Amherst Street house, was as rudimentary. But the passion for the game was no less.

Now, if thousands of youngsters across the state want to be like Sourav, they also have the basic tools to help them pursue that dream ' parents who pamper their 'cricketer' sons, proper pitches rather than gully cricket, coaching clinics with full gear and add-on facilities, stars as guest coaches, a Sourav-struck chief minister all too eager to give cricket a boost...

On any given Saturday, the 300-odd coaching camps in the state are a sea of white as aspiring cricketers go through the grind. 'The Sourav factor is enormous and the rush started ever since he made his mark in 1996,' says former Bengal cricketer Gopal Bose. The East Zone representative of the National Coaching Academy warns that the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) must improve infrastructure to turn attraction into ability.

There is no playing down the Sourav effect. 'Though India's World Cup win in 1983 was the first trigger and Bengal's Ranji Trophy triumph in 1990 had some impact, it was Sourav's emergence that opened the floodgates. Being the most successful Indian captain must be the icing on the cake,' observes former Bengal cricketer and national selector Sambaran Banerjee.

But is the crowd crush at coaching camps being borne out by their contribution to Bengal and Indian cricket' Is quality playing second fiddle to the craze' 'Our survey shows that close to 25 per cent of the camps in the state do not have adequate infrastructure and we have actually rejected their application for participating in our sub-junior tournaments (95 Points and 110 Points),' reveals CAB secretary Saradindu Pal.

With the game in flannels now a fashion, with Sourav still Bengal's Hero No. 1, and coaching camps now a way of life, we take stock of the six most high-profile cricket cradles in town.

Bournvita Cricket Academy

Where: Metropolitan Magistrate Club, Maidan

USP: Arun Lal, former India opener, Bengal captain and now commentator

From: 1996

Plot given by: Metropolitan Magistrate Club

Space cost: No lease cost for land

Number of students: About 300

Age group: 6-20 years

Fee: Admission Rs 750, then Rs 300 per month

Number of coaches: 19

Facilities: Three concrete and eight turf pitches, plus three for kids with linoleum covering, bowling machine, video analysis, multi-gym

Nets on: Thursday, Saturday and Sunday

Performance peak: Won the CAB 95 Point Tournament thrice, the 110 Point Tournament once. Finalists in current 110 Point Tournament versus Videocon School of Cricket

Contribution to Bengal cricket: About 10 players in Bengal age-group teams and more than 50 in CAB division cricket

Top talent: Shib Sagar Singh, Arindam Das, Sourasish Lahiri ' all Bengal cricketers

Pitch report: 'The pool of dedicated coaches like Debesh Chakraborty or Pranab Nandy is the key to the success of coaching camps' ' Arun Lal

Videocon School of Cricket

Where: Beside Karunamoyee international bus stand, Salt Lake

USP: Sourav Ganguly himself

From: October 2005

Plot gifted by: Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority

Number of students: About 900

Age group: 7-19 years

Fee: Admission Rs 2,600, then Rs 400 per month

Number of coaches: 26 (including Snehasish Ganguly and Utpal Chatterjee)

Facilities: 16 practice wickets (13 turf and three concrete) along with a full-sized ground, audio-visual analysis (under preparation), gymnasium (under preparation), library and medical back-up

Nets on: Thursday, Saturday and Sunday

Performance peak: Finals of CAB 110 Point Cricket Tournament '06

Contribution to Bengal cricket: Has just got off the mark

Pitch report: 'Academies can contribute up to a certain level, but overall infrastructure needs to be improved' ' Snehasish Ganguly

Ashok Malhotra Cricket Academy

Where: Dhakuria Lakes, opposite Menoka cinema

USP: Ashok Malhotra, former India cricketer and national selector

From: March 2000

Plot given by: Calcutta Improvement Trust (CIT)

Space cost: Rs 17,500 per year

Number of students: About 300

Age group: 5-19 years

Fee: Admission Rs1,000, then Rs 300 per month

Number of coaches: 11

Facilities: Five turf and four concrete wickets, four new balls given for practice every day, regular match practice

Nets on: Thursday, Saturday and Sunday

Performance peak: Quarter-finals of CAB's 95 Point and 110 Point tournaments

Contribution to Bengal cricket: About seven players in different age-group teams

Top talent: Srivats Goswami (Bengal Under-17 and Customs club), Amit Das (Under-19 regular and a berth in National Cricket Academy)

Pitch report: 'CAB should have a list of recognised academies on the basis of available infrastructure and quality of coaches; otherwise, mushrooming of so-called cricket academies will kill Bengal cricket' ' Ashok Malhotra

Mainland Sambaran Cricket Academy

Where: Vivekananda Park

USP: Sambaran Banerjee, former Bengal captain and national selector

From: 1998

Plot given by: CIT

Space cost: Rs 17,500 per year

Number of students: More than 300

Age group: 6-19 years

Fee: Admission Rs 1,250, then Rs 250 per month

Number of coaches: 14

Facilities: Five concrete pitches and a turf ground, different nets for Under-10 and Under-13

Nets on: Thursday morning, Saturday and Sunday

Performance peak: Champion in CAB's 95 Point Tournament in 2005, finalist in CAB's 110 Point Tournament in 2003

Contribution to Bengal cricket: About 16 players in different age-group Bengal teams and 80 in CAB division cricket

Top talent: Subhojit Banerjee has done well in Under-15, Asif Pradhan and Agniv Ghosh are good prospects

Pitch report: 'We need to have bowling machines and video wall; former Indian greats like Dilip Vengsarkar will regularly come down for short coaching stints' ' Sambaran Banerjee

ETMA CCD Cricket Coaching Centre

Where: Beside Rabindra Sarobar, below Lake Gardens flyover

USP: Gopal Bose, former Bengal captain and a pioneer in coaching camps for kids since 1981

From: Jan 2004

Plot given by: CIT

Space cost: Rs 17,500 per year

Number of students: About 100

Age group: 11-19 years

Fee: Admission Rs 500, then Rs 250 per month

Number of coaches: Six

Facilities: Three concrete and six turf practice pitches

Nets on: Thursday, Saturday and Sunday

Performance peak: Participation in CAB's 95 Point Tournament

Contribution to Bengal cricket: A few players in the Under-13, Under-19 and Under-22 teams

Top talent: Abhishek Jhunjhunwala (Bengal Ranji batsman) and Rahul Dutta (National Cricket Academy).

Pitch report: 'Infrastructure, like pitches, is quite poor for the boys. Sourav Ganguly has come up not due to but despite the system' ' Gopal Bose

Barun Burman Cricket Academy

Where: Dhakuria Lakes, opposite Lake Kali Bari

USP: Barun Burman, probably the fastest bowler Bengal has produced

From: September 2004

Plot given by: CIT

Space cost: Rs 17,500 per year

Number of students: About 150

Age group: 6-19 years

Fee: Admission Rs 750, then Rs 250 per month

Number of coaches: Five

Facilities: Four concrete nets

Nets on: Thursday noon, Saturday and Sunday mornings

Performance peak: Champion, Under-22 Calcutta Cup

Contribution to Bengal cricket: Couple of representations in Under-15 B team

Top talent: Awaited

Pitch report: 'Clinics such as these require sponsors to survive. Basic facilities like a tent and a permanent toilet are the immediate requirements' ' Barun Burman.

JAYANTA BASU

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