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Great Indian aspiration

Manu goes to man U

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RIGHT PITCH: For aspiring cricketers, IPL has certainly increased opportunities

If you've been looking at the billboards for luxury apartments in and around Delhi, you'd know that excelling in sports has suddenly become the Great Indian aspiration. Instead of pushing spas and golf courses, canny builders are now advertising celebrity sports academies. If the Dhoni academy is going to make an Amrapali apartment more premium, Suresh Raina will add an extra V to a VVIP address in Ghaziabad. The latter property even boasts of a a cricket stadium "with day and night match facility".

Why stop at that? Since Lord's is the mecca of cricket, a British realtor called Anglo Indian is building homes in Mumbai and 11 other cities that will have an MCCbranded cricket academy and ground together with an MCC Lord's branded members club.

Advertising ploys they may well be, but they are also a sign of the times. Sports coaching is a booming business today with parents ready to fork out skyhigh fees to get their kid the right training. . Virender Sehwag's school in Haryana's Jhajjar charges Rs 1 lakh for day scholars and Rs 2 lakh for boarders. The Manchester United academy, which opened recently in Mumbai, charges upwards of Rs 12, 300 for just one week. Even then, it got 300 kids for its first module.

CRADLE TO COURT

Soccer moms are no longer a solely American phenomenon. Our desi cricket and soccer moms (and dads) are stepping into their SUVs to drive their children to coaching academies and tournaments. In what's increasingly beginning to resemble a cradle-tocourt routine, two- and three-year-olds, who are barely potty trained, are being put through their paces - bouncing balls, punching suspended objects and even dance moves - to improve hand-eye coordination. While the number of children actually kicking footballs, swinging racquets and looking to bowl that flirtatious outswinger may not be much higher than it was in the '70s and '80s, a significant number of kids are being encouraged to look on sport as a serious career.

Long before he was even married, Bangalore-based hotelier Prakash Reddy had decided that if he had a son he would make him a cricketer. Pointing proudly to D Nischal, who is now a Karnataka under-19 cricketer, Reddy says, "I've tried to provide him everything he needs to be a cricketer. Even if he ends up not even playing first-class cricket, I will not be disappointed. "

DIFFERENT STROKES

Imtiaz Ahmed, a former Karnataka Ranji Trophy player who runs a cricket facility in Bangalore, points out that, surprisingly, at least one-fifth of the parents in his academy aren't particularly concerned with their ward's academic progress. "I even have a young man in my academy who has come from London, " says Ahmed. "He wants to play six months in India and six months in England in the hope that it will make him a complete batsman. "

Where there is demand, there is supply. Cricket academies are doing roaringly from Kashmir to Kerala. Seasonal, short duration camps - summer and holiday options - that last from a week to a month cost between Rs 2, 000 and Rs 10, 000. Yearround ventures that cater to the committed player's physical, technical and mental well-being charge anything from Rs 3, 000 to Rs 20, 000 a month.

Even old facilities are beefing up their image with "foreign attachments". For instance, the Jaipur Cricket Academy has former South African World Cupper Meyrick Pringle as chief coach. Expectedly, coaching fees climb with these add-ons. Not everyone's in it for the money, though. Former India skipper Dilip Vengsarkar, who runs two cricket academies in Mumbai, trains for free. "If I start charging money, the quality of kids joining my academy will be compromised, " he says.

IPL SHOWS 'EM THE MONEY

For aspiring cricketers, that money-spinning machine called the Indian Premier League has certainly increased opportunities. Even in football-mad Kolkata, the goalposts seem to have shifted in favour of cricket.

The new target is to make it to one of the nine teams in the IPL competition. Fittingly, the chorus has changed from 'make my son a Sachin Tendulkar' to 'make him good enough to play the T20 game'. Tarak Sinha, owner of the 30-year-old Delhi-based Sonnet Cricket Club, says, "Everyone wants their boy to be an IPL player. "

Tennis may not rival cricket in the popularity stakes, but the coaching fees aren't that much cheaper, especially in ventures run by aces like the Krishnans in Chennai and the Bhupathis in Bangalore. Krishna Bhupathi's Tennis Village in India's IT City, a one-stop state-of-the-art facility started by Krishna Bhupathi, charges its competitive players up to Rs 30, 000 a month for two sessions a day, six days a week. Aspiring squash players in Mumbai shell out Rs 7, 000 a month in an elite facility like the Cricket Club of India where former Harvard coach Satinder Pal Bajwa talks technique and tactics.

FLORIDA, HERE THEY COME

Parents shell out between Rs 10, 000 and Rs 70, 000 a month in Delhi, where a number of tennis academies have mushroomed. The Delhi Lawn Tennis Association and TeamTennis are packed with kids who are not even as tall as their racquets. Grand Slam aspirations often see hopefuls boarding flights to Florida to train at academies like the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, where champions like Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova were created.
Foreign football camps are also popular. Adhip

HOWZZAT, COACH

MS DHONI
Keen to open academy in Himachal Pradesh;likely to get land in Solan

YUVRAJ SINGH

Yuvraj Singh Centre of Excellence in Gurgaon in association with Pathways International School

VIRENDER SEHWAG

Academy at Sehwag International School in Jhajjar

HARBHAJAN SINGH

Plans to open a cricket academy soon in Jalandhar

Bhandary, who has a master's in management and administration from the IOC in Lausanne, runs a football academy in Bangalore that coaches nearly 400 children. Besides working at popularising the sport, Bhandary gives his trainees exposure, the most recent being a trip to the Catalan club Espanyol.

A father of a Chennai-based athlete said incidental expenses each month for his child tot up to Rs 10, 000. In a country with a fledgling sporting culture and administrative machinery that is as outdated as it is faulty, it's not just money that parents have to spare. Parents have been known to give up their jobs in order to be around to chauffeur the child to camp and tournaments and ensure that he or she eats and right and exercises well.

In Bangalore when the Ozonegroup, a real-estate firm, which tied up with KNVB, the Royal Dutch Football Association, to kickstart a 24x7 football school for Bangalore's backstreet dribblers last December, almost 6, 000 children turned up for selection trials. Raghu Subramanium, VP Strategy, Ozonegroup, who refused to discuss the money involved in the project, says that his was a social initiative with its focus on underprivileged children.

"Our goal, " he says, "is to get India to qualify for the World Cup finals. Equally important for us is to have our kids playing for top clubs in Europe. We are going for gold and we think it is possible. "

Likewise, thanks to the emergence of Sania Mirza in tennis and Saina Nehwal in badminton, there's a huge rush for racquet sports in Hyderabad. So much so that kids from all over the country are converging at the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy hoping to be the next Saina.

Former badminton player Vivek Kumar, a founder member of the Prakash Padukone Badminton academy, pointed out that if the talent was real and the effort true, money is no longer an issue in Indian sport. In the Bangalore-based academy, promising 12-year-old Rahul Bharadwaj found an individual sponsor who was willing to cough up Rs 2 lakh every year to help improve the player's diet and training.

Kumar says, "Rs 2 lakh is not big money, but for a 12 year-old it goes a long way. There's money coming into sports other than cricket and that makes the deal a whole lot more attractive for families venturing into the competitive arena. I would say Saina today is a wealthy young lady, and deservedly so. She has worked very hard, gone places and serves as a great role model. "

In Bangalore, summer camps of the Basavanagudi Aquatic Centre cater to as many as 3, 000 children. In a town known largely for its business and design schools, Ahmedabad today boasts of six golf courses within city limits, two of these facilities have their own academies and kids as young as four and five teeing off.

Beyond the comforts of India's urban pockets, sport continues to attract new recruits from the hot, dusty hamlets of Kerala, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. Disciplines like athletics, boxing and wrestling are riding a new high thanks to groundbreaking performances by elite athletes like Sushil Kumar, world champion and Beijing Olympic bronze medalist, and multiple world champion MC Mary Kom. Long before children in the metros deigned to tear their eyes away from high-end gizmos, parents in rural India gave sport a thumbs-up, recognising it as an opportunity for their offspring.

Most of the 30 trainees at the Eklavya Archery Academy near Vadodara hail from families that fall below the poverty line. While bull's eye is the goal, aspiring archers in the facility have mastered the art of make-do - they grow vegetables in their backyard, cook, and wash dishes and clothes. Even the prize-money the trainees bring back is used to fund academy activities. Still, the dream refuses to fade.

Further south, the Regional Sports Centre in Kadavanthara, Kerala has summer camps in 27 disciplines. The RSC attracts over 2, 500 children in the 7 to15 age group. 15 to 20 per cent of the children continue yearround in the camps while the rest of them use is it as a holiday, recreational feature. Football remains the most popular activity, thanks mainly to the artificial turf that was laid last year.

Arvind Jayan, 13, and his friends Vishwanath, Saideep and Adam, who are attending their first summer camp at the RSC, have persuaded their parents to allow them to continue there even after school begins. "Initially my parents only wanted to send me here for the summer, " says Arvind. "But now, seeing my interest in the game and after speaking to the coaches, they changed their mind. "

Sports psychologist Dr Chaithanya Sridhar says there has been a huge shift in the past five years in the way parents view sport. "The key to success used to be academics. Not only is there a growing interest in other innovative courses today, but parents are beginning to view sport as a serious career choice for their children. New heroes like Sania Mirza open new doors. "

With inputs from Arani Basu, Amit Karmarkar, Ajit Bezbaruah, Arup Chatterjee, Dwaipayan Datta, Kunaal Majgaonkar, Prashanth Menon, Ratnakar, Satish Viswanathan, R Satya, Shayan Acharya, Vijesh M V and Vineeth Krishnan.

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