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This In India

Cricket whites in red country

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PITCH PERFECT A view of Raipur's new cricket stadium. The Chhattisgarh teams showed great promise in their first BCCI season last year.

At 20, Karandeep Singh, a cricketer from Chhattisgarh, has been witness to a lot of violence. The soft-spoken cricketer, who hails from the Naxal-affected Konda village in Bastar district, still remembers how he and his team were stopped twice by Maoists while they were on their way to play in a tournament in Dornapal a few months ago. After taking their photographs and checking their details, the Naxals allowed them to go. "Bandook saamne ho to dar to lagta hi hai. Kya pata galti se hi goli chal jaye. (When you see a gun before you, you get scared. After all, accidents do happen sometimes ), " says Singh.

The son of a mechanic, Singh, who also takes care of his paralysed mother when he is not touring, can now dare to dream big. After all, he is close to rubbing shoulders with some of the domestic stars when Chhattisgarh - which earned statehood 11 years ago - gets the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) affiliation in the next two years. Every run he scores, every catch he takes will now count, as it will ensure a better future for his family.

Cricket could well be the talking point in Chhattisgarh soon. "We are doing everything to popularise the game at the grassroot level. The results are very encouraging and we are confident that the game will flourish once we get affiliation from the BCCI, " says Chhattisgarh State Cricket Sangh (CSCS) secretary Rajesh Dave, a former Madhya Pradesh player. "From 2000 to 2008, we didn't have any affiliation so the game suffered a lot. But for the last three years, after getting BCCI's associate membership, we have tried our best to develop the game in the region, " he adds.

At present, six Chhattisgarh players are part of the Madhya Pradesh Ranji Trophy squad. Medium pacer T Sudhindra, who is currently the highest wicket-taker in Ranji Trophy, hails from the state. Left-hand batsman Harpreet Singh represented India in the Under-19 2010 World Cup in New Zealand and is playing for Pune Warriors in the IPL. All-rounder Vishal Kushwaha, who has represented Madhya Pradesh in different age categories, is a treat to watch when he gets going and has excelled in the Col CK Nayudu Plate Group 'B' tournament. Kushwaha scored a double hundred in the BCCI-organised one-day associate trophy last year. He is amongst the top five run-scorers in his group besides taking 14 wickets.

"Unlike other associations in the country, we don't have enough money. However, we are doing our best with limited funds we get from the BCCI. We won one match outright against Goa and lost the subsequent matches but I am impressed with the attitude shown by our boys. The opposition had home advantage as we had all 'away' matches, " points out Dave.

Chhattisgarh were the champions in the Under-22, Under-16 and Women's Associate Trophy last year. They missed the Under-19 Plate Group berth by a whisker losing the final to Bihar in a closely contested encounter. "We are ready for the Ranji Trophy. Most of our talented players are either playing for MP or other states as we don't have full membership. The day we get the affiliation, I am confident that they will play for us and we will surely compete with other states in the Ranji Trophy. Also, there is no dearth of talent in the state, " Dave says.

The administrators say they are trying to give the game a boost while waiting for full membership to come through. "Despite limited funds, we have organised several tournaments and provided good facilities to the players. An international stadium in Raipur will also be ready by next year and it's as good as any other in the country. The government will give us the stadium for 30-year lease and the fans may soon see an international or IPL match here, " says Dave.

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