|Praveen Kumar (top) and Rudra Pratap Singh
Kanpur: Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore no longer enjoy pride of place when it comes their boys being selected to Team India.
Rather, it is the dusty and narrow bylanes of Meerut, Rae Bareilly and Ranchi that have produced the GeNext of Indian cricketers.
Uttar Pradesh has, no doubt, been the biggest supplier in recent times. Its sports colleges and hostels have been breeding grounds of talent. Good planning and the optimum utilisation of resources are the secret behind the achievement.
Mohammed Kaif showed the way when he made it to the Indian team in 1999. Suresh Raina, Piyush Chawla and Rudra Pratap Singh followed and there are many waiting in the wings to make their mark.
“We start training the boys from before the age of 15. We impart to them the right technical know-how,” Deepak Sharma, coach of RP and Raina at the government sports college in Lucknow, told The Telegraph.
“The training is exhaustive… Importance is given to both the physical and mental aspects. The mental element, so important in today’s cricket, is dealt with in detail. Getting the basics right in an environment like this helps them.”
Sharma cited the examples of RP and Raina. “RP’s free flowing action and Raina’s stylish approach have come in for a lot of praise. Both are technically near perfect. This is all because the guys are well-versed with the basics.”
Talent spotters across various districts in Uttar Pradesh scout for youngsters. Initially, around 4,000-5,000 boys are recruited and this number is finally pruned to 15 after selection trials that involve physical and aptitude tests. The trials begin in February each year and the final selection is over by June.
During the four years at the sports college, the boys’ education is also taken care of. After passing out, they have the option of spending another two or more years in the sports hostel in Kanpur where there is a graduate course.
Life in the sports college is tough with students having to follow a strict routine. A typical day at the college begins at 5.30am. After a gruelling two hours of physical and skill-specific conditioning, the boys attend school. The afternoon session begins at 3 and is limited to nets and practice matches.
“It’s a long-term process. The boys grow with us,” said Sharma, who is a senior cricket coach at Lucknow college.
“RP and Raina joined the college when they were around 13. Both were extremely hardworking and eager to learn and wanted to make it big. Both played in the Ranji Trophy and the under-19 World Cup while still in college,” Sharma recalled.
The contribution of the Sharmas, who have an eye for spotting talent and understanding the mindset of players, hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Whatever success I have achieved today is all because of Sharma Sir. His contribution has been immense… (but) people like him prefer to stay in the background,” said RP.
Sharma is confident Raina will soon be back in the India squad. “Raina has always been in constant touch. Now that he has recovered fully (after surgery on his left knee) and is back among runs, his recall is only a matter of time. Above all, he has an excellent temperament.”
Praveen Kumar has been the latest talent to be picked for Team India from the state. Though not from the sports college his allround success in the domestic circuit helped.
“I didn’t go to the sports college because I missed the trials. But I was lucky that I received help and support from Kaif and Gopal Sharma once I got noticed at the junior level,” said Praveen.
The list seems to grow with every passing season. Zahid Ali (wicketkeeper), Ankit Paul (lefthand batsman) and Shivnash Sharma (leg-spinner/allrounder) are the youngsters to watch out for, feels Sharma.
It would be wrong, however, to assume that the success story is limited to cricket. Hockey, tennis and table tennis have also been among the beneficiaries.
Uttar Pradesh is a success story that will shame cities and states that boast of better infrastructure and technical proficiency. Perhaps it is time for them to take a leaf out of its book.