Assam Cricket Team – A deeper look into the exploits of Vijay Hazare’s North East team, which hopes to see a major rebuild from 2019 onwards, top coaching under chief Trevor Gonsalves and a state cricketer representing India.
Assam cricket has been the talk of Indian domestic cricket circles for the past two months. However, Assam’s semi-final run in the 2022 Vijay Hazare Trophy, which concluded earlier this month, is not their best performance in a domestic one-day tournament. Their best finish in the meeting came nearly a decade ago when Assam were beaten by home heavyweights Delhi in the final of the 2012-13 season in the coastal city of Vishakhapatnam. Interestingly, this was Delhi’s first Vijay Hazare Trophy crown.
Assam Cricket Team
They defeated the likes of Karnataka, Delhi and Vidarbha en route to the Vijay Hazare semi-final and Maharashtra beat them narrowly by 12 runs in the semi-final. They opened with a point against Kerala in the ongoing Ranji Trophy, but in the second match, the former champions fought back to take a three-point lead in the first innings against Delhi.
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To the casual viewer, this may come across as a story that punches above its weight. But if someone with a little more interest in domestic cricket takes a closer look, there is more to it than meets the eye. For that, we need to dig deeper into their success story.
A little perusal of the final scoreboard in 2013 would have thrown up one name in the Assamese innings – home run Dheeraj Jadhav from Maharashtra who played as a professional for Assam then. Amol Muzumdar, S Sriram, Dheeraj and Sairaj Bahutule are some of the famous names who have represented Assam as professional players over the years.
But the latest scoreboards of the matches involving Assam will not give you such names. Because there have been some changes in the structure as well as policies related to Assam cricket.
After joining the Assam Cricket Association (ACA) in January 2019 as secretary, Devajit Saikia led the state governing body to take decisions and make some changes that are now paying off. Saikia, who has now been named joint secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in October this year, elaborated on the process they started nearly four years ago.
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“Immediately after taking charge, we made some structural and policy changes. The first is changes in infrastructure and facilities. When we joined the association, Assam had only two-three suitable turf wickets to play first-class matches. Now in these four years, we have to develop 23 grounds. we have taken and 15-16 areas of it are ready. Soil has been brought from Odisha to prepare the tracks,” Saikia told TOI from Guwahati.
“Secondly, we have redesigned the annual calendar. Earlier, there was no proper club cricket under the ACA and the few domestic matches played were held concurrently with the BCCI domestic calendar. And this clash of calendars made it difficult to select the right players to represent Assam in BCCI meets.
“Now all the 42 district divisions are under ACA and there is a pool of over 7,000 cricketers in various age groups whose data is in the system, the necessary structure is now in place. APCC (Assam Premier Cricket Championship) is now big, we have a big Rs 1 crore in club championships. amount and all these are under ACA,” added Saikia.
“The domestic calendar starts in May and runs through the summer, so a player gets at least 15-20-30 matches before the odds are picked for first-class and List A squads. It also helps the selectors, who now have their responsibilities they perform.work without any interference.Earlier they had to select based on their past performance or reputation but now everything is simplified and simple things are put.
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“The third major policy change is that we have stopped accepting professional personnel from 2019. Earlier we depended on professionals, but now there are no outfielders in the Assam team. Having professionals take over the responsibility of scoring does not help the local players. They don’t take runs or wickets. .You have to be in charge of your own destiny. So this semi-final finish in Vijay Hazare is a bigger achievement than the final in 2013,” Saikia noted.
As for the people directly involved in making those changes on the ground, Saikia praises the current coaching staff, especially head coach Trevor Gonsalves.
“Trevor has made a big impact on the team. He has changed the mindset of the players, which has been his role in this success. I have to appreciate the roles played by assistant coach Subhrajit Saikia, coach-cum-manager Salil Sinha (senior team), U. – 25 coaches in this journey of Assam cricket Vivek Jaisimha, Ajay Ratra and Stuart Binny,” said Saikia, who is often regarded as the man who changed Assam cricket in the last four years.
Ratra had been in charge of Assam’s senior team since 2019 before Gonsalves took over this season. Binny was Ratra’s deputy for the 2021–22 season.
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Subhrajit, meanwhile, was the head coach during the 2012–13 season and was closely associated with the Assam cricket team in various capacities, sometimes with age group teams other than the senior team.
The core of the Assam squad has remained more or less unchanged over the past few years, but that group has performed as a team to fight through tough situations to produce winners. So, in addition to performances with bat or ball, there should be some mental conditioning.
When it comes to improving the mental toughness of the players, former India Under-19 player and first-class paceman Gonsalves has undoubtedly played an important role.
“I always tell my wards that a man’s temper can be known when he is down and out; not when you go with the big guns. To be famous, you have to do something extraordinary. People will notice your performance only if it is against Delhi, Mumbai, Punjab or Karnataka. Whoever plays for them should be against the big names of domestic cricket,” Gonsalves told TOI.
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“I explained to them that your performance of Vijay Hazare does not seem random. Play the ball on its merits, hit a four or six when hit, defend it if it’s defended. Don’t think you are playing Ranji Trophy or Vijay Hazare or T20. Failure makes you, so don’t be afraid, be confident,” explained the former Vidarbha coach.
Gonsalves gave a piece of his mind by declaring against Delhi immediately after taking the lead in the first innings. “Yes, it was a mind game. It gives you an edge when your opponents think, “Look, they declared against Delhi!” You get the advantage, the advantage here by announcing the innings,” Gonsalves said with a laugh after the Delhi match.
With their efforts showing results, Assam is looking for greater achievements this season, but there is a bigger dream to be fulfilled.
Saikia, the former ASA secretary and the main architect of this latest success, says with the Assamese cricketer still wearing the Indian colors at the highest level, “We have full support from BCCI secretary Jay Shah who has played a big role in our success. From the end of the Board of Assam by offering all possible help. But our wish is to see an Assamese player at the top level in India as soon as possible. There are three or four popular performers – Riyan Parag, you might say, is the front runner, the others being Rishav Das (batsman), Mukhtar Hussain (left-arm medium pacer) and Rajjakuddin Ahmed (all-rounder). Although Rajjakuddin is out of the team due to his poor performances of late, they have all made good progress.”
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A player now gets around Rs 2.5 lakh per match in the Ranji Trophy, a far cry from the paltry wages cricketers will soon be drawing, but still the amount does not match the millions earned by IPL stars.
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“The IPL dominates the Ranji Trophy. Unless their match fees go up a lot, it will be considered an orphan and the poor cousin of Indian cricket,” Gavaskar said.
The legendary batsman, who captained India to win the famous Benson & Hedges World Series in Australia in 1985, spoke during the 26th Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial Lecture in the national capital.
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