An Evening Of Hope As Much As Glamour

An evening of hope as much as glamour

A decade ago, before India Under-19 embarked on a tour of New Zealand, Lalchand Rajput, the coach, called one of his old Mumbai teammates to the Wankhede Stadium to address the group. In an essay for the Wisden India Almanack (2014), Virat Kohli described the moment.

“As soon as we saw Sachin enter the stadium, we got goosebumps since none of us had met him before that,” he said. “He walked towards the area where we were practicing, and he spoke to us about the conditions. I just stood there looking at him. I didn’t even blink my eyes because I couldn’t quite believe it. It was something truly special.”

When Abhishek Sharma, just 16, picked up the MA Chidambaram Trophy for highest scorer in the Vijay Merchant Trophy for Under-16s at the BCCI awards function on Wednesday (March 8) evening, many of us inside the hall had to blink twice. His numbers – 1200 runs at 109.09, and 57 wickets (left-arm spin) at 10.56 – would be incredible even in backyard cricket. It’s no surprise that he has already followed in Kohli’s footsteps and led the Under-19s.

Later in the evening, as Kohli had his dinner – no curries, only grilled food – a friend made Abhishek pose next to him for a photograph. The young man was almost quaking with excitement, and when Kohli wished him well for the future before resuming a conversation with Abhinav Mukund, you could imagine him floating away on a magic carpet.

That was the best thing about the awards on Wednesday (March 8) last night – it was about the cricketers, at every level. Those that won the awards were cricketers, those that gave them away were legends, and many of those in attendance also belonged to the fraternity. Apart from a succinct welcome speech by Rahul Johri, the BCCI chief executive, there was no trace of an administrator or political bigwig hogging the limelight.

Farokh Engineer delivered a Pataudi Memorial Lecture that was more ribald after-dinner speech, but it certainly resonated with many of the young men sitting nearest the stage. He spoke fondly of several contemporaries, and there was no mistaking the depth of his admiration for the man they called Tiger.

But the clear highlight was the BCCI Lifetime Achievement award given to Shanta Rangaswamy. Engineer had joked of how the men used to make do with match fees of Rs 50 a day. In her acceptance speech, Rangaswamy pointed out that such an allowance would have been a luxury for the women, who never got paid a penny.

Rangaswamy, India’s first women’s captain, played 16 of India’s first 19 Tests, but those were spread over nearly 15 years. For seven years between 1977 and 1984 and then again for another four-and-a-half-year stretch after 1986, the women didn’t even play a Test.

“We were never paid,” she said, jogging the memories of those who can remember a time when Indian cricket wasn’t awash with cash. “We travelled by unreserved train and stayed in dormitories. I dedicate the award to pioneers in women’s cricket who played when there was little incentive.”

She’s 63 now, and though this recognition has come far too late, it’s a start. As was the decision to honour stalwarts like Padmakar Shivalkar and Rajinder Goel. “Players become old, but never age,” said Goel in a brief speech that got him some of the biggest applause of the night.

One of those in the audience was Smriti Mandhana, on crutches after the injury she sustained in the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia. Shy and bespectacled, Mandhana hopes to be back in time for India’s World Cup campaign, which starts against England in late June.

She is one of the great hopes of Indian women’s cricket, yet many inside that room would not have recognised her, just as they would have walked past Goel without a second glance. Giving awards to Kohli and R Ashwin in recognition of their phenomenal achievements is fine, but it’s far more important to encourage those that toil in their shadow.

If you love cricket, rather than the trappings of power that come with it, it’s possible to create such events and make them special. For Indian cricket’s sake and for all those that play, as Rangaswamy put it, for the love of the game, one can only hope that this was one of many such evenings.

Abhishek Sharma, for one, will certainly never forget it.

Source: Wisden India

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