Amid Red Tapism, Bihar Cricket Has Been Suffering for Two Decades
The recent order by the Supreme Court in January, this year, came as a relief to the cricketing fraternity in Bihar and most importantly to the aspiring cricketers in the state. The apex court ordered the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to allow Bihar to play in the Ranji Trophy and other domestic tournaments in the country.
Over the past 17 years, Bihar has been devoid of any opportunity of developing the game in the state.
Under Jagmohan Dalmiya, in 2001, the BCCI tried to change the name of the Bihar Cricket Association (BCA), a BCCI member since 1935, and in 2004, led by the controversial Chief Minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, to Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA), a move that didn't sit well with Bihar, the bigger state. As a result, the BCA was disaffiliated, while Jharkhand got full membership.
The disqualification and the absence of the state team from all domestic tournaments for over two decades further deteriorated the already rotting cricket infrastructure in Bihar due to corruption, negligence and politics.
Fault Lines in the Past Two Decades
Before the bifurcation of Bihar, the Bihar Cricket Association (BCA) was the custodian of the sport in the state. After Jharkhand came into existence, the cricket board too was separated into Bihar Cricket Association and Cricket Association of Jharkhand (now Jharkhand State Cricket Association) in 2001.
Soon after the separation, the BCA lost its affiliation and after the next BCCI elections, in 2002, it lost its voting power too. The BCA was reduced to an unofficial working body.
As if this wasn’t enough, there was an infighting in the BCA which led to its division. Now there were two camps – one run by BCA President Lalu Prasad Yadav and the other by Ajay Narayan Sharma. As expected, there was chaos as every district had two BCA offices, including the one in Patna. Two BCCI offices were being run simultaneously.
The state now had almost four associations and none of them were affiliated to the BCCI. The internal division and the fight for recognition hampered the growth of cricket in the state. Murari, a former player complains that playing for a team under a single association would have meant getting rejected by the other associations.
The four separate bodies: the ACB led by Kirti Azad, BCA headed by DIG of CRPF Alok Raj, Aditya Varma’s CAB and Mrityunjay Tiwari-led Bihar Players' Association finally decide to merge in 2006, isolating Lalu Prasad Yadav’s BCA.
Both Chhattisgarh and Bihar got their associate-member status at the same time in 2008 but it was Chhattisgarh who managed to play its first Ranji match in 2016, after it beat Bihar to get the full-member status.
Finally in 2016, the Supreme Court’s decision to approve all the recommendations of the R M Lodha Committee brought the long-awaited good news. The BCA became a full member of the BCCI and had the permission to participate in the Ranji Trophy and other domestic tournaments, and also became eligible to vote in the BCCI elections.
However, despite this, the state didn’t participate in the following year’s domestic tournaments.
It was only in January, when the Supreme Court, in response to an appeal made by Aditya Verma, ordered the BCCI to allow Bihar to play in the Ranji matches.
An Era of Suffering
The last two decades have left many dreams shattered for the cricketers in Bihar. Cricketers seeing no prospect in the state either stopped playing the game or migrated to other states for a better future in the game.
Sarwan Ark, who has been playing for almost a decade, said after playing for his district Begusarai in Bihar, he moved to play cricket in Jharkhand for the Under-19 team.
With little or no training and without any government sponsors, the aspirants are left with a bleak future. Few lucky ones find their feet in Ranji matches by playing for other states.
Bihar’s Ishan Kishan, who captained India’s Under-19 team at the World Cup, plays his first class cricket in Jharkhand. Ashish Kumar Prasad, a right arm bowler from Lohardaga in Bihar, who plays first class cricket, also made his way through Jharkhand.
Lalu Prasad Yadav’s son Tejashwi Yadav also played for Jharkhand.
But Ranji teams from the neighbouring states are no longer accommodative enough to hone every talent from the state. Sarwan Ark was left out of the Under-19 squad after playing two trial matches. He said he has played matches with Ishank Jaggi and Shahbaz Nadeem, Ranji players from Jharkhand. Though he appreciates the opportunities provided in neighbouring states, he laments the state of cricket in Bihar.
But Murari has a different tale to narrate. He complains of discrimination faced by many Bihar cricketers in other states after their migration. Murari isn’t alone, there are other players like him who are left with no options but to quit.
Meanwhile, Cricket Association in Jharkhand, since its inception in 2001, has given the country a number of cricketers. The most prominent among these has to be Indian team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Apart from Dhoni, Saurabh Tiwari, Varun Aaron, Shahbaz Nadeem have also gone on to represent the country.
The Lack of Domestic Matches and Tournaments
Over the years, the state has organised a few district level and league matches under the sponsorship of the state government. The Bihar Cricket Association, which organises these matches in every district and at the state level, is still divided into two camps, at least in the districts. In almost all the districts, there are two camps of the BCA which conduct these matches. The players are the real victims of these rivalries.
Randheer Kumar, who is a part of the BCA says, “Though the BCA has reconciled into one in few districts, the rift continues in the almost all the other districts.”
“The league and districts level are held annually, but they are very infrequent, and if you play in one faction’s league, the other one blacklists you,” said Murari.
Another big issue is the usage of tennis balls instead of leather balls. Most of the tournaments in the country, including the Ranji Trophy, use leather balls but the majority of cricket in the state is played with tennis balls. This practice further excludes cricketers from competing at the national level.
Bihar’s participation in the Ranji matches would mean more investments in organising domestic matches. The prerequisite in organising these matches has to be the unification of different clubs within the state.
Bihar’s cricket infrastructure is in a sorry state.
The state boasts of a solitary international venue, Moin-Ul-Haq Stadium in Patna, which last hosted an international match in 1996. The dilapidated state of the stadium portrays the real state of cricket in the state.
In 2017, the Bihar government announced setting up a sports academy and an international cricket stadium at Rajgir in Nalanda district. But the construction of the stadium is still a far-fetched dream.
The BCCI provided the BCA with a grant of Rs 50 lakh for infrastructure development and cricketing activities after the latter was awarded associate-member status. The money was siphoned off and an FIR was launched against BCA secretary Ravi Shankar Prasad Singh and former secretary Ajay Narayan Sharma. The fund to the BCA was stopped from the very next year.
Corruption, which is rampant in the Bihar Cricket Association, still continues to be a big hurdle in the way of progress for cricket in Bihar.
The state, at present, requires establishment of infrastructure to host district and league matches.
Ark laments over the fact that despite all the funds there has been no providence from the administrator’s side. The cricketers pay out of their own pockets for their training.
What Lies Ahead?
The order of Supreme Court has paved the way for cricket in Bihar, but there are multiple challenges in the way ahead.
First and foremost, the proper functioning of the Bihar Cricket Association. A lot of players have suffered in the past decades, but with the court’s order, there is a new beginning in sight for the cricketing fraternity in the state. The budding cricketers are left with nothing but hope that “if winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
(Majid Alam is a student pursuing Masters in Convergent Journalism from Jamia Millia Islamia. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)