Guwahati: The seeds of Assam’s glorious showing at the 2022 Vijay Hazare Trophy, the premier domestic white-ball 50-over tournament, were sown some three years ago when the former top council took charge under the leadership of President Ramen Dutta and Secretary Devajit Lon Saikia .
Saikia recently took over as Joint Secretary of the National Cricket Board (BCCI). On Saturday, he revealed that the performance of the Kunal Saikia-led state team in the tournament, where they reached the semi-finals, justified the former council’s decision to pass the wickets in Assam during the Covid-19-induced nationwide lockdown in 2020 .
“When the apex council took over in 2019, we asked (Assam all-rounder) Swarupam Purkayastha, ‘what ails Assam batsmen’ and found that the existing pitches in Assam were not suitable for playing long innings. For decades, Assam has paid more attention to his bowling prowess in domestic cricket than his stroke. That was an eye-opener for us,” Saikia revealed on the sidelines of a congratulations program organized by the Assam Cricket Association (ACA) for the state team.
“We immediately decided to get ground from places with good cricket wickets. We knew we couldn’t make it out of Mumbai so we visited nearby states like Bengal and Jharkhand. We sought help from experienced curator Ashish Bhowmick, who suggested to get soil from Odisha’s Balangir, and accordingly we got 8-10 trucks of soil for 20 wickets during the first wave.
“We used the ground to pass the wickets at Barsapara Stadium, Judges Field and Amingaon Stadium, where most domestic cricket takes place, and our team trains regularly. Our curators Vinod Sharma, Bibhuti and Mukut deserve credit for putting themselves on the line to pass the wickets during the first phase of the lockdown so that our players can benefit by playing in batting friendly wickets,” he added .
Saikia, who represented Assam as a bum during his playing days, said it was a welcome change in the history of the state’s cricket that the batsmen outperformed the bowlers, who also deserved equal credit for restraining powerhouses like Karnataka, Vidarbha, Delhi, before defeating Jammu and Kashmir in quarter finals of Vijay Hazare trophy tournament.
“If you look at the overall performance, our hitters have been chasing challenging totals like the 350 against J&K and 296 against a team like Karnataka. No credit will be given to the apex council, but with all credit to the players, the management staff of the Assam Cricket Association also deserve credit for their efforts,” he said.
“The whole country recognizes Assam’s achievement, even the BCCI president Roger Binny personally called me to congratulate the team’s show,” he added.
Saikia also expressed satisfaction that their decision to field only local players has produced the desired results. “In 2016, we decided to reduce the number of professional players from other states on our team, and in 2019, we strengthened our resolve and stopped hiring professionals. The idea was to support our players and keep their services for a considerable period of time,” said Saikia, echoed by the team’s coach Shubhrojit Saikia.
Considering Assam’s performance in the main draw, the BCCI The joint secretary also revealed that there are three or four names “circulating” among the senior gentlemen in the board, but at the same time urged the team to beware of complacency as the Ranji Trophy starts in about 10 days.
“Nowadays I am involved in the selection of the women’s teams, we also had discussions today. I want the selectors to include our players’ names, if we discuss the players from other states, that’s not a happy situation for me. When I see our players compete as Jinti Moni Kalita (selected in India B team) then that is the real success for Assam cricket,” he said.
“As of now, there are three to four men’s team names in circulation, but in 10 days the Ranji Trophy season will start. It’s red ball cricket, it’s just as important, so you also have to calibrate your mental part, the camps start in three to four days, and you have to prepare yourself to keep up the pressure for the next two and a half months of cricket,” Saikia advised .
Newly elected ACA president Taranga Gogoi also joined the former secretary in wishing the team well before the grueling four-day cricket tournament begins as he handed out the checks of Rs 25 lakh and Rs 10 lakh along with the rest of the top council for the players and support staff respectively. The ACA also announced a cash award of Rs 1 lakh to Jinti Moni Kalita for her selection to the India B team.
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