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Cricket feast for hill sports freaks - Tourney draws the best of talent

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By RAJEEV RAVIDAS in Kalimpong
  • Published 11.02.07

Kalimpong, Feb. 11: Thanks to television, the game of cricket has become a popular winter sport in the hills.

And local enterprise has ensured that Kalimpong plays host to the biggest cricket tournament in the region.

The 15th edition of the Piranhas Cup concluded at the Dr Graham’s Homes ground here today. Organised by Piranhas Club, the tournament drew 24 teams from the Darjeeling hills, Sikkim and other parts of north Bengal, who vied for the honours over the last one month. Cricket Academy of Sikkim emerged champions by beating Brothers XI, Kalimpong, in the finals today. The Sikkim team won by three wickets.

“Barring one year, we have been organising the Piranhas Cup regularly since 1992. Earlier, we were more into organising football and volleyball meets,” said Shamsher Ali, president of Piranhas, which, incidentally, is celebrating its silver jubilee this year.

The inception of Piranhas Cup coincided with the rising popularity of the game among the people from the mid-eighties. The game, though, is not new to the hills and it was played earlier by the babalog (students) in reputed English-medium schools established during the British Raj.

Interestingly, the hardy hill youth prefers to play the game during the winter months when the temperature in some places dips below freezing point and visibility is reduced to zero.

“In fact, when visibility gets really bad, it is mandatory for a bowler to shout ahyo (here comes) while releasing the ball,” said Sanjeev Ravidas, a Siliguri-based sports teacher who was a regular in the hill cricket circuit in the nineties.

There was a time when Bengal all-rounder and former India player Laxmi Ratan Shukla set the hills ablaze with his batting and bowling. “Besides Shukla, cricketers like Palash Bhowmik and Topal Banerjee (both of whom have donned Bengal colours at various levels) have also played in the Piranhas Cup,” said Jigme N. Bhutia, chairman of the tournament’s organising committee.

“Apart from stump vision, we use all other electronic gadgets like square leg cameras and stump michrophones to help the umpires take decisions,” he said.

The tournament is played with white balls and players wear coloured clothing, Bhutia added.

“We have come a long way. When we started the tournament, most youngsters here used to practice with cricket bats made out of bamboos,” said Ali. Cricket, though, is yet to reach the status of football, which continues to remain the most popular game in the hills. “If one of the many talented youngsters from the hills were to make it real big internationally, the hills should witness a cricketing revolution,” Ali added.